Wrestlemania 36 has sparked many conversations in the wrestling world. Largely surrounding the WWE’s irresponsible decision to continue holding shows during a lockdown, but also about matches that take place away from the ring.
Whilst it is nothing new for a heated rivalry to spill out of the confines of the squared circle and into all manner of places, it is something that is happening now more than ever. Spurred on by the success of Matt Hardy’s Broken Universe, a new wave of cinematic matches has swept across the wrestling landscape and left an indelible mark on the industry.
Hardy himself no doubt drew some inspiration from such wild brawls of the past as well as the world of film and television.
There is something undeniably exciting about seeing wrestlers go to war in unusual locations. It adds an element of unpredictability and often leads to the most unique of contests. The Firefly Funhouse Match from Wrestlemania 36 is a prime example of this, though it can hardly be called an actual match. It told a story that would be impossible in a regular matchup, making use of its pre-recorded nature to deliver something wholly unique and unsettling for a captive audience.
It was not the match from the two-night extravaganza that bears talking about though. That honour instead belongs to the exceptional Boneyard Match between AJ Styles and The Undertaker.
Whilst this was essentially a slightly more PG retooling of the Buried Alive match of old, it did more than enough to separate itself from those affairs too. Drawing a large dose of inspiration from the aforementioned Hardy features, this match delivered a cross between Rodriguez Grindhouse and Romero old school horror.
It was the perfect was to utilise The Undertaker at this late stage of his career and allowed Styles to work a memorable match with the aging Phenom. Instead of being hamstrung by age and injury, the two were able to unleash their creative sides in order to make this a rousing success.
It was, for many, the best contest of the weekend and has left fans wanting more, as any good form of entertainment should.
In contrast, this next match is one that no one would really want to see ever again.
Despite being a very short battle, FMW’s No Rope Electrified Barbed Wire Swimming Pool Dynamite Double Hell Death Match packed a ton of action in.
As part of Atsushi Onita and Mr. Pogo’s bloody war, this match featured teams led by the two doing battle on a barbed wire encased platform in the middle of a swimming pool that was also surrounded by pyro to simulate dynamite.
If that mere description isn’t crazy enough for you then you should also be aware that Mr. Pogo stabbed Onita in the stomach with a scythe during this match, wiggling it around for extra effect.
You’ll no doubt recognise the hulking figure of Mike Awesome, then known as The Gladiator, who delivers a scary looking Sit Out Awesomebomb to one of his opponents.
In all honesty this is nothing more than a gimmicky train wreck, but it is not without its charms and deserves to be mentioned alongside other Hardcore classics. It’s worth a watch if for no other reason than the site of Team Onita coming to the ‘ring’ via dingy is a hilarious sight to behold.
Almost as hilarious as exploiting a real-life double murder, right? Right guys? Huh, guess not.
That’s exactly what happened in the Hollywood Backlot Brawl between Goldust and Roddy Piper though. Classic Vince right there.
The entire match was set up as a take off of the very real OJ Simpson case taking place at the time. Going so far as to feature the actual footage of OJ’s infamous white Bronco police chase, this was as classless as it gets.
Having said that, it’s really not a bad match if you are able to ignore the obvious problems.
Originally intended to be fought by Goldust and Razor Ramon, the latter was suspended and that made way for the dynamite pairing of Goldie and Piper. Each of these men had bag loads of charisma and totally opposing characters, it was a recipe for something glorious.
Making the most of what they had, they brawled wildly and utilised the famous vehicle as well as their environment to full advantage.
In many ways this is a seminal moment in WWE history and showed that these types of matches can work wonders when done correctly. Putting Goldust in there is very much doing it correctly.
So too, it would seem, is booking The Undertaker in these types of things.
Years before the Boneyard Match was ever imagined, ‘Taker was doing battle with Mankind in a Boiler Room Brawl.
The boiler room is a foreboding place in any building. Perhaps cemented as such by the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it was further confirmed to be a place no one should venture when it became home to the demented Mankind.
This was before Mankind was a loveable goofball, when he was a chilling figure who squealed like a pig and haunted the nightmares of young fans, much like Kruger himself. Even next to The Undertaker, Mankind managed to be the scarier of the two.
If there ever was a perfect match for such a character, it was this. It allowed the brawler to showcase his sadistic nature whilst providing a setting that upped the fear factor through poor lighting and claustrophobic walkways.
Undertaker also shone in the boiler room as he looked vulnerable for the first time against this new type of foe. It allowed him to play his character a little differently, almost apprehensively and it showed his range far better than a one on one encounter in the ring might have.
It also provided something different for the audience at home, which was of utmost importance during this time period. Mankind and ‘Taker may have been a half rung below Austin and The Rock during the Attitude Era, but really they were the ones who brought something different to the table and excited fans the most.
Finally, no discussion of great matches that took place outside the ring would be complete without making mention of The Final Deletion.
Oft imitated but never duplicated, this was the spark the ignited the fire when it comes to cinematic matches.
Born from the fevered mind of Broken Matt, this battle of brothers dialled up the crazy to eleven. Between the fireworks, burning Hardy symbol, and sheer insanity of Matt Hardy it’s easy to ignore the genius at play.
Many have described this as Shakespearean, which is perhaps a little simplistic. It is far more evocative of the ancient Greek Tragedies. You have the familial drama, the journey towards a final climatic battle, and a fractured psyche looking to delete a superior sibling. The jealousy and murderous intent invoke the names of Medea and Agamemnon.
That may seem an overblown review of a wrestling match, but it really was worthy of such lofty comparisons.
The fact that the Broken Universe is still going strong in AEW should be testament enough to the lasting impact that this match had. It will be remembered long after The Hardy’s have wrestled their last. It’s Matt’s magnum opus and it was a gift to the wrestling world.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!