COURTESY OF WWE HOME VIDEO, MATTHEW ROBERTS TAKES A LOOK AT THE LATEST WWE RELEASE, WRESTLEMANIA 36.
Well, we all know the story with this year’s WrestleMania and why it couldn’t be held in front of 80,000 people. Give props to Vince McMahon though, making the best of a bad situation. The show was held in the Performance Center in front of precisely no-one. WWE then doubled the fun by making it a two-night event for the first time in it’s history.
We could debate the merits of holding events in the manner WWE has until kingdom come, but what about the action? As always, there were ups and downs…and everything in between.
The opening match of the event was a fun one and highlighted four performers who have made the most of the “empty arena” era. If the current set up has done one thing, it has exposed those who can’t think for themselves or tailor their act to the circumstances. The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) and their challengers, Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss, stepped up to the challenge and showed that here. The action was fun and they didn’t just pretend that it was unfolding in front of a crowd. It was so much fun that Elias and King Corbin couldn’t really follow it. This was a decent, but lackluster match.
The Raw Women’s Championship was up for grabs next, as Becky Lynch defended against Shayna Baszler. Perhaps more than any other main match, this one suffered from not having the build-up it would have had in more normal times, post Elimination Chamber. Many were aghast at the result, and it sadly wouldn’t be the last time that was the case over the weekend. However, I thought it told a good story and made logical sense. Besides, Baszler hadn’t been allowed to show anything on her main roster run to that point to convince me that she was the one to unseat “The Man”. The Intercontinental Championship match that followed between Sami Zayn and Daniel Bryan was fun, even if it seemed like a TV set-up match rather than a ‘Mania match with its finish.
This was followed by more title action, as the SmackDown Tag Team Championships were on the line in a three-way singles ladder match. The effort was there, you cannot fault that, and it must have been difficult for John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, and Jimmy Uso to go out there and put their bodies on the line in front of no-one at all. Similarly, Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins made the most of what they had, but were a little let down by the overbooking as the false DQ finish stopped all their momentum. Still, it was another match I enjoyed.
Goldberg and Braun Strowman did what they had to do, so there’s no complaints about it from me on that score. I also certainly have no complaints about Night One’s main event: The Boneyard Match between AJ Styles and The Undertaker. Sure, the build-up had been a little all over the place, but that was understandable. We also saw one of, if not THE best promo of Taker’s career a few weeks prior on Raw. Opinions will naturally differ on this match; some like the “cinematic” approach to wrestling, while others will lament it. I honestly loved this one. I dare say it turned out a lot better than if it would have been just a regular singles match between the two. Full marks all round.
Night Two started with another result that had people, if we’re being kind, scratching their heads, as Charlotte took the NXT Women’s Championship from Rhea Ripley. For me, this was the best “in-ring” match we got that weekend, regardless of the result. To be perfectly honest, I can’t say I’m too worked up by how it played out. Sometimes, WWE is just WWE. Aleister Black and Bobby Lashley was a fun one to follow; it didn’t overstay it’s welcome, was fought at a good pace, and was probably a lot better than some may have thought it was going to be.
Otis and Dolph Ziggler had a fair match, albeit one that didn’t really matter all that much. It wasn’t because of the action, but of what followed it. They may swerve us in the weeks and months to come, but who didn’t raise a smile when Otis and Mandy Rose shared a kiss? Edge and Randy Orton following up that heart-warming moment seemed sensible, but 40 minutes or so later, one was left with a bitter taste of disappointment. I’ll admit to nodding off during the live showing of this one; it just went on FAR too long and the constant ten counts fell flat with no crowd interaction alongside them. Surely on this show of all shows they could have cut/edited this down. It would have worked a lot better as a 15 minute run through.
The Street Profits vs. Angel Garza & Austin Theory was a quick, fast-paced tag match that at least brought this viewer back into the land of the living. The SmackDown Women’s Championship match between Bayley, Sasha Banks, Tamina, Lacey Evans, and Naomi was another one that could have benefited from a little less time. However, it was still entertaining, as was the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt. Much like the Boneyard match, this one will divide opinion. It was much less of a “match” than the previous night’s one, but this was creative, inventive, and utterly baffling on first viewing at 3am!
At least the night, and the show overall, ended on a high note after Drew McIntyre defeated Brock Lesnar to win the WWE Championship. Given the circumstances, I thought a short match was the best option. The only real downside was that you watched wishing that McIntyre (another one who has blossomed in the “no crowd” era) could have had this moment in front of a stadium crowd.
Under the circumstances, I have a lot of love for this year’s WrestleMania. Not everything was great, of course, but other than the odd exception there was nothing horribly bad either. This could have been even better with a little more time pruning in certain places, but it would be churlish to complain too much about the show overall. Regardless, I hope that next April we’re watching ‘Mania from a packed stadium, just like it should be.
As far as extras, the two kickoff matches were included. Drew Gulak vs. Cesaro is fun but very short. Natalya vs. Liv Morgan is similar, though not as good. Some promos from Raw, Smackdown, and NXT leading up to the event gave some context to proceedings and helped add to the overall package.
Photographs courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
You can find me on Twitter @IWFICON