WrestleWatch: WWE WrestleMania 36 (Part 2)
Well, this feels weird. This is it for me. Before I get into reviewing the second half of WrestleMania 36, just a little personal message. I don't know how many people read this. I know out of all my friends, there's a small handful that do read my reviews, enjoy them and give me feedback. There's also a large segment of my friends that don't give the slightest shit about my obsession with pro wrestling, and that's okay too. And from that, there's some friends- or at least Facebook friends- that I've lost in recent times. I scroll through my timeline, looking for something I've posted that could be construed as offensive enough to hit that "delete" button, and all there really is is my wrestling posts. I guess some people are so irritated by my love of this weird brand of entertainment that they wanted to cut me out of their virtual lives. Disappointing, but it is what it is, I can't change that.
One thing I've noticed is that many of the friends I've lost on social media are ones connected to my study and work as a teacher. Now, over the last 2 to 3 years, I've worked a lot less and posted a lot less about teaching, and focused more on my hobbies, like wrestling. The reason for that is that my health took the nosedive of all nosedives in 2017. I finally took on a full time teaching gig, and I was unable to sustain it physically. I found myself getting weaker and weaker, to the point that I had a microsleep driving on the freeway and almost hit a truck driving at 110km an hour. I pushed myself so hard that I literally almost died.
I had a feeling that I wouldn't be able to handle full time work, going back to my first proper job in 2009, working at Jamberoo Action Park. It was a seasonal job, with most of the work taking place during school holidays, which suited me as I was beginning my study of my Primary Education course. During the holidays, I worked 5 days straight, and on the 5th day, I collapsed at work and my supervisor sent me home. I was 19, in the best shape of my life, about 30kg lighter than I am now, but I was still physically disabled. Cerebral Palsy is so much more than a "funny walk". So I scaled back the amount of shifts I took at Jamberoo. I could manage on 3, maybe 4 days a week, using the rest of the time to recover. When I became a qualified teacher, I found the same issue taking on casual work. I was fine at that 3 day mark, depending on how I felt that week I could sometimes manage 4, but it was always pretty taxing. On a handful of occasions I took 5 days of casual work in a week. Once again, pushing myself that hard caused me to spiral physically, and I would be in absolute agony, barely able to move for the next week at least, sometimes 2 or 3.
So, following my microsleep, I knew I had to leave the full time gig. I was already bowing out of term early, but they knew that when I signed on- before I was offered the job I already had a bucket list overseas trip to WrestleMania 33. I made it to Week 8, but after Week 4, it was taking every ounce of resolve to simply get to work with the pain I was in. The Mania trip was only a week long in April, and the school offered me a position in Term 2, which I had to decline. Adrenaline and excitement got me through Mania week- and I still slept through 1 of my 7 days in America, sleeping for 15 hours. Once I got back to Australia, it was recovery time. Except I never really recovered. I looked into what was wrong and I had arthritis in addition to my Cerebral Palsy. After a couple of months, I tried to take just one-off casual days at different schools, and it was a massive struggle. Two days in a row? Forget about it.
So, I was pretty fucking depressed. My whole life, I've wanted to be a teacher, and my body was letting me down. I've tried different medications, treatments, pain management programs, and I could still only manage sporadic work at best. So, to keep myself sane, and stop myself from really doing something stupid, and following in my dad's footsteps, I dove into my wrestling fandom. I would watch it, I would write about it. I was also playing a lot of video games- sometimes WWE, sometimes not, and I made a YouTube and a Twitch channel. All things designed to distract me from the reality of how shit my life was.
A few months ago, I started to make a breakthrough. I started getting a bit fitter, losing weight, gaining strength. I started seeing a dietician, who has directed me in getting easy, convenient meals that are still healthy- I can't stand for long periods to cook food, and I have poor motor skills that makes food prep extremely difficult. So I'm gradually clawing my way back to good health, physically and mentally. Cerebral Palsy is still there, arthritis is still there, but there's finally positive progress being made. The progress is slow but steady. So with that, I'm going to be turning my focus back to teaching work again and continuing to get myself healthy. That means I won't be using wrestling as my crutch anymore. I'll still watch, I'll still be a fan, but this is my final post/review for quite some time. Pro wrestling has saved my life, now it's time for my life to get some balance again.
One more round. One last ride. One last WrestleWatch review. Let's do this.
Damn, that really wasn't a "little" personal message, was it? But that's as "heart on my sleeve" as I can be. Onto the show. If you've read Part 1, you already know the weird circumstances surrounding this year's Mania. If you haven't, go! Read it! Do it! Now!
Kick-Off- Liv Morgan def. Natalya (at 6:25)
Thoughts: This was a match designed to give Liv Morgan a bit of shine. Nattie led the dance with some technical wrestling and a bit of trash talk, but in a competitive sportsman-like manner. Liv held her own in the chain wrestling exchanges, and got the 3 count with a nice criss-cross victory roll after a series of pinning attempts. Nicely done all around. (**)
There was a slight bit of Twitter controversy about this, too. Several fans commented about Liv's outfit being similar to that of NXT signee, Scarlett Bordeaux. Scarlett's boyfriend, Killer Kross, also recently signed to NXT, replied to a fan, simply saying, "Good question". Nia Jax quickly butted in with a Tweet of "you better take a f**king seat real quick, dude". Ooh, drama!
I mean, Liv's had that outfit since the Rumble, I don't know why it became a thing now. All I know is that Liv Morgan is hot as hell, and you can't teach that.
Isolation got me thirsty as hell, guys.
Main show with another message from Stephanie McMahon about putting smiles on faces. They play the Jack Sparrow intro video from yesterday again. It was an awesome package (hey yo).
Match 1: NXT Women's Championship- Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley (at 20:30)
Thoughts: This was really, really good. I feel like Charlotte and Rhea essentially just had the same match they would have had at Raymond James Stadium, lack of fans be damned, and it was all the better for it. Attitude aplenty here with the cocky Queen Charlotte crowing "This is our NXT Champion?" and Rhea returning fire. Cool spot where Rhea counters the patented Flair Flip with a straight kick to the jaw, followed by the Riptide for a convincing early near fall. Charlotte begins to target the leg with surgical precision, and although Ripley shows great heart in fighting through the pain and trying to mount a comeback, she eventually fell victim to the Figure 8. Looks like Charlotte Flair is heading to the black and gold brand to lend her starpower there. (***1/2)
Commerical for The Big Show Show, coming to Netflix! The World's Largest Athlete stars as himself in a sitcom where he's a retired family man after his illustrious wrestling career. Cameos by Mark Henry and Mick Foley are seen. Eh, I'll give it a chance, but family sitcoms have never really been my thing.
Match 2: Aleister Black def. Bobby Lashley (w/ Lana) (at 7:20)
Thoughts: Not a ton to write home about here, it was an okay match. Business picked up a little when Black borrowed Kota Ibushi's triangle moonsault to wipe out Lashley on the floor. The Almighty gains control back in the ring and goes for the Dominator, but Lana yells out for Bobby to hit the Spear instead. Of course, this backfires, and Lashley charges straight into the Black Mass. Okay, that was a cool finish. And Lashley is pissed at his wifey post-match. Damn, are they breaking that act up already? (**1/2)
Backstage interview where Kayla Braxton interviews both Bayley and Sasha Banks. Bayley says their bond is stronger than ever and walks away. When Kayla presses the issue with Sasha, she smiles and says, "We'll have to wait and see".
An ad airs for the Money In The Bank PPV, live on May 10. So much for stopping shows for a while.
Match 3: Otis def. Dolph Ziggler (w/ Sonya Deville) (at 8:15)
Thoughts: This was exactly what it needed to be. My favourite midcard storyline in ages gets the big payoff with the big loveable goof getting the girl. Sonya Deville accompanied Dolph Ziggler to ringside, and mid-match Mandy Rose comes out- looking like an absolute snacc!- and hits Dolph in the nuts behind the referee's back, allowing Otis to hit the Caterpillar and get the win. Otis scoops up Mandy in his arms and they smooch, although not that passionately. Still a win for the big man, giving the rest of us hope! Otis is a treasure. (***)
Match 4: Last Man Standing- Edge def. Randy Orton (at 36:35)
Thoughts: I've seen a lot of complaining about the length of the match, but to me, it suited the storyline perfectly- two men that know each other inside and out, with decades of history, going to war. It helped that this was the match I was looking forward to most on Wrestlemania weekend, and I was behind Edge all the way, having watched his excellent 24 documentary on the WWE Network in between Night 1 and Night 2. Inventive start with Orton dressing as a cameraman and sneak attacking Edge with the RKO, and then they brawled through the whole PC, using the gym and the boardroom in creative ways to attack each other. Edge climbed a ladder and put Randy through a table with a big elbow drop, then they battled to the top of a production truck. It looked like Orton was going to hit Edge with the Punt, but the Rated R Superstar caught him with a brutal Spear on the roof! Conflict, pain, emotion etched on his face, Edge ended it with a Conchairto atop the truck. An epic encounter in my book. (****1/2)
Back in the arena portion of the Performance Centre, 24/7 Champion Mojo Rawley is getting chased by a group of wrestlers. Looks like more than 10 people to me, what about the coronavirus? Gronk does a trust fall dive onto the pile and pins his buddy Mojo to win the 24/7 Title! Eh. It was a light-hearted segment to shift the tone after the super serious and dramatic Last Man Standing, so I can't hate on too much. Besides, there are three certainties in life- death, taxes, and outside celebrities winning the 24/7 Championship. I know Gronk's signed a contract now, but to me, he's still an outsider until he proves himself. And for me, that's gonna take a lot, because as I detailed in my Night 1 review, I fucking hate the guy.
Match 5: Raw Tag Team Championship- Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) def. Austin Theory & Angel Garza (w/ Zelina Vega) (at 6:20)
Thoughts: This was a fun, high energy sprint, and a good way to contrast from the last match. Nothing overly spectacular, but Montez hit a nice flip dive to the outside- and is caught this time, unlike Raw. Finish is somewhat taken from the women's tag match on Night One- Theory appears to have the thing won after hitting a TKO on Dawkins, but Ford breaks it up with his ridiculously high Frog Splash, allowing his team to get the win. (**1/2)
Post-match, Theory and Garza attack the Profits, and they hold Montez so Zelina can slap him about- and then the music of Bianca Belair hits! The EST of NXT, and the real life wife of Montez Ford, Belair storms the ring and takes out Vega, allowing the Street Profits to stand tall after their Mania win. Cool moment!
Titus O'Neil replaces Gronk as the Wrestlemania host! A significant upgrade. Titus is a genuinely likeable dude. I don't think much of him as a wrestler, but as a personality? Salt of the earth (sorry, MJF).
Match 6: Smackdown Women's Championship- Elimination 5 Way- Bayley def. Lacey Evans, Sasha Banks, Naomi & Tamina (at 19:20)
Thoughts: This was pretty fun, constantly busy due to the amount of participants. Tamina gets time to shine kicking ass as the powerhouse, and then the other 4 gathered to eliminate her first. Good, good. Tamina might be worse than Nia Jax... who as I write this (spoiler alert) has made her return on Raw After Mania. Tamina doesn't injure people like Nia does... but she's just so boring. The little stretch of offense she got in this match might be the highlight of her career. Oh, and we had a brief moment of a Team BAD reunion. I totally forgot Team BAD was even a thing- an alliance of Sasha Banks, Naomi and Tamina when Sasha first joined the main roster, for those who don't know. Yep, WWE looked at the work of the Boss in NXT and thought, "you know what we should do? Put her with Tamina!" Naomi got to fly around the place, almost taking out both Bayley and Sasha with a double sunset flip pin, then hitting the Rear View. Naomi locked Sasha in a submission, and Bayley saved her friend. Sasha put Naomi in the Bank Statement moments later, forcing her to tap. Down to Lacey against Bayley and Sasha. Bayley accidentally hits Sasha and they get into an argument- then Lacey hits Sasha with the Women's Right, and this time, no save from the champ. Down to Lacey and Bayley, and just as it looks like the champ is going to lose, Sasha hits Lacey with the Backstabber, allowing Bayley to retain. Really good action, with so much happening, I forgot the crowd wasn't there. (***1/4)
Sasha put the Smackdown Women's Championship around Bayley's waist and raises her hand. Is the turn coming, is the turn coming... nope. To be continued...
Match 7: Firefly Fun House Match- "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt def. John Cena (at 13:00)
Thoughts: This may be the weirdest thing I've ever seen in pro wrestling, in 22 years of watching the thing. And you know what? It was kind of brilliant. Not a match in a traditional sense, more of a production, which will draw comparisons to yesterday's Boneyard Match. However, the Boneyard Match was more of a cinematic fight scene, while the Fun House was a series of wacky, but clever skits. It begins with John Cena making his entrance in the empty Performance Centre. As is his custom, he talks to the camera, saying, "Welcome to Wrestlemania!" Distorted video then interrupts, with classic clips of Vince McMahon and Gene Okerlund saying the same line. Then Cena is... teleported? to the Firefly Fun House set. Ramblin' Rabbit tells Cena that Bray has gone through the door. Cena warily opens it... and then the madness begins. We get a full career retrospective of John Cena, starting with Cena's WWE debut re-enacted. Bray plays the role of Kurt Angle, while present day Cena, seemingly out of control of his own body, walks out in the same tights he wore in 2002. Bray mocks him, then we get the Doctor of Thuganomics. Then Cena is transported to the 80s, lifting weights, flexing and cutting a cocaine-fueled promo. Then what if Cena turned heel? We arrive at WCW Nitro, with Bray playing the role of Eric Bischoff. Cena comes out in nWo gear, in essentially Hollywood Hogan's role. Then we get a do-over of Wrestlemania 30. Cena is trying to fight Bray through all of this, and finally, the scene switches to the Fiend, who applies the Mandible Claw. Cena is down, the Fiend pins him, the sweater-wearing version of Bray Wyatt counts the 3. Such a weird segment, crazy, brilliant, elements of nostalgia and a heavy dose of winking at the hardcore wrestling fan, including an absolute shocking line where the Vince puppet says, "It's such good shit!" which is a line from Jon Moxley's shoot interview after he left WWE. Definitely going to be a polarising "match", you either love it or hate it. I loved it, it was Cena willing to basically mock himself and his whole career, it was Bray's incredible creative mind on display, and ultimately The Fiend went over Cena. It seems that the "overhyped, overrated" superstar Cena was talking about ending may have been himself. A real masterpiece. Absolutely mental, but a masterpiece all the same. (*****)
We go back to WrestleMania host Titus, who is speechless. Eventually he just says, "I don't know what I just saw." Fair response!
Match 8: WWE Championship- Drew McIntyre def. Brock Lesnar (at 4:35)
Thoughts: I was a little disappointed by this, I felt like it could have been much more. Could have been a real war of attrition, and it seemed like in the build that Brock was willing to put on his working boots for Drew in this one. Rumours have run rampant that Brock was extremely angry that Vince forced everyone to go ahead with WrestleMania when the rest of the world is on lockdown, so maybe that has something to do with what we saw here. They pretty much did a version of the great hoss battle between Lesnar and Goldberg at WM33, which Goldberg and Braun tried to recapture on Night 1 and failed dismally. This was far better, with Drew hitting moves with far more impact and intensity than Old Man Bill could, including a Claymore in the match's opening seconds for a nearfall. Then it was just kill shot after kill shot. Lesnar hits the F5 and Drew kicks out at ONE. McIntyre kicked out of three F5s in total and rallied back with three Claymores to become the first British WWE Champion. In the end, this was good, but it could have been great, I would have liked to see Lesnar and McIntyre kick the living shit out of each other for 20 minutes, y'know, like a proper WrestleMania main event. Both men are certainly physically capable of it. And in the opener, we saw Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley go all out in an empty arena. It's a shame these two didn't do the same. Glad to see a new face crowned as a proper main eventer though- McIntyre is the first one to truly break through since the Shield guys- besides maybe AJ Styles, who came in established from his worldwide reputation. Others have almost done it, like Kevin Owens and of course Bray Wyatt, but consistency is key. With a Rumble win and now a WrestleMania main event win for the WWE Championship, Drew McIntyre's place is solidified. (***)
I feel like Night 2 of WrestleMania was a significant improvement on Night 1. The top matches all delivered, and the Firefly Fun House was a weird, wonderful production that I definitely won't forget any time soon. More than anything, this did a far better job of feeling like WrestleMania, with just about everybody on the show seeming determined to work their ass off to make it a success, to give us something to enjoy while the world is locked down. This was the escape I needed.
Overall Score: 7.5/10
I don't know if there will be a next time, if there is, it's a long way down the road. Thank you to those that have followed me here. Thank you to pro wrestling for saving me.