WrestleMania 36 Part 1 and Part 2 Review
The dust has settled and I am sure we have all made our ways through what is undoubtedly the strangest WrestleMania of all-time. The only WrestleMania “Too Big For Just One Night!™” had incredibly tepid expectations due to the state of the world we live in and having been moved from Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in front of between 70 and 80,000 people to the empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando (as well a few closed locations). I’ve long stated that WWE is usually at their best when their back is against the wall, so I still had some hope for the show. Did the show live up to them? Well, yes and no.
WrestleMania 36 Part 1:
The first night of WrestleMania began earnestly with a preshow match between two of the greatest talents on any of the rosters, Drew Gulak and Cesaro. Stemming from the feud between Gulak’s new friend Daniel Bryan and the group now known as the Artists Collective (Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro) this match was good but relatively short and meaningless.
Following an introduction by Stephanie McMahon and what was clearly the original video package opening before everything changed, we go to this year’s WrestleMania host, Rob Gronkowski, along with his buddy Mojo Rawley. I’m sure these guys have a certain appeal and star power to, well bros everywhere, but for me personally they do nothing. But they toss it into the ring with our commentary team of Michael Cole and, oh god isn’t Covid-19 shutting down the world bad enough?!?, John Bradshaw Layfield. Our first official match of the card is The Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane defending the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships against Bliss Cross Applesauce, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross. Two things stand out from this match, the first being what a tragedy it is that Kairi Sane was robbed of her great pirate-themed entrance, especially since her entrance gear was on point. The second being that this was a true coming-out party for Nikki Cross. Fans from her run in NXT and before knew she was incredible, but this was a chance for her to really show it, and she was rewarded with her and Bliss regaining the titles.
The next match would see King Corbin face Elias in a match set up by the illustrious host of Mania. The build to this match saw Elias take a fall off the little balcony where the host is standing in one of the more ridiculous segments aired on TV this year. Given the fact that a little bit of kinetic tape on his shoulder was the only selling Elias saw fit to do, this match was cold and ill-conceived. Elias picks up the win, and one can only hope Corbin and Elias stay far away from one another for a long time going forward.
In a surprise move, last year’s WrestleMania main eventer, Becky Lynch defends her RAW Women’s Championship against Shayna Baszler, in one of the most anticipated matches of the weekend. Given the intense build to this match, many likely found the match underwhelming to say the least. The work itself was very good, but it seemed like they possibly needed more time to tell the story they wanted to tell, and given the talent involved you think they would be given that time. Lynch retained with the ‘Bret Hart special´ reversing the Kirifuda Clutch into a pin to score the three. It’s clear this feud will be continuing, and who knows, maybe it will finally lead to that long dreamed of a match between the rival groups of Horsewomen.
In one of the matches I was looking forward the most to, Sami Zayn defended the WWE Intercontinental Championship against Daniel Bryan in what would, unfortunately, turn out to be a match full of shenanigans. While Sami would expertly build heat for himself as a “chicken shit” heel, knowing the talent of both Zayn and Bryan many were hoping for a straight-up wrestling match. Unfortunately, due to outside distractions from Drew Gulak, Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro, it would all lead to a limp ending with Sami retaining the title after a modified Helluva Kick.
Thankfully the show of shows would start seeming that way with the Triple Threat Ladder match for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Being moved into a singles triple threat between John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso on short notice due to illnesses and the fear around the Corona Virus threat, these three men put together the best match they possibly could, given the circumstances. And knowing this was their chance to tear down the joint, all three men put their bodies on the line in what was far and away from the most exciting match of the first night. Morrison would retain the titles after all three men pulled down the hook holding the titles, and he would unstrap the belts following a fall from a double headbutt.
Keeping the momentum going, the grudge match between the ‘Monday Night Messiah’ Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens would follow. Following a cheap DQ finish, after Rollins hit KO with the ring bell, Owens would goad Rollins into restarting the match with No DQ rules. This would lead to the biggest in-arena spot of the weekend, with Owens launching himself from the oversized WrestleMania sign into Rollins through the announce table. Following a stunner, Owens would technically pick up two victories in one night over Rollins. An absolute highlight and must-see.
R-Truth would confront Rawley and Gronk in a bring-down segment that resulted in Mojo escaping with the 24/7 Championship. It was a thing that happened.
Up next would be the WWE Universal Championship match between Goldberg and the last-minute replacement Braun Strowman. In a quick match, Strowman would become the champion following four powerslams. If this was 2018 when Strowman was hot and needed the win, this would certainly mean more. I believe the phrase is, ‘a day late and a dollar short.’
Finally, the main event of the first night of WrestleMania would be the mysterious Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles. In one of the most gleefully bat-shit insane things WWE has ever produced (at least until Night Two) we get essentially a mini-movie (and not the kind WCW used to produce like the White Castle Of Fear). Styles shows up in a hearse, bursting out of a casket next to a gravesite, while The Undertaker reverts to his ‘American Badass’ gimmick, making his entrance on a motorcycle to the sounds of Metallica. As someone who is a die-hard Undertaker fan (I have the ‘Taker symbol tattooed on my arm) but hated the ‘Badass’ gimmick, this one still got me. Given that it was filmed like a low-budget horror movie, featuring Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson commanding a group of druids to attack Undertaker, I feel the ‘Deadman’ persona really would have worked better, but they did a good mingling of the two to make it work. At one point Taker ends up in the grave, but as Styles goes to dump the dirt on him (yes, this is a glorified Buried Alive match) a beam of light and Taker appear behind him, similar to how Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers would. Following a chokeslam from the top of the nearby building to the ground, Taker would big boot Styles into the grave, dumping the dirt onto him to win the match. A horrible fake arm wearing Styles signature glove sticking out of the dirt, Taker would ride off into the distance. My description simply cannot do this match justice, it has to be seen to be believed.
That would end Night One of WrestleMania 36, and hey, we can officially say that AJ Styles main evented WrestleMania!
WrestleMania 36 Part 2:
Following the rather successful first night of WrestleMania 36, and the absolutely insane reaction from the world to the Boneyard Match, it felt like people had a little more faith in the product going into the second night and I know amongst anyone I spoke with that the hype for the Firefly Funhouse match had skyrocketed. For the kickoff show on the second night, we were greeted by Liv Morgan and Natalya. A cold match with absolutely no build whatsoever beyond being announced officially roughly 24 hours beforehand, the women put on a serviceable match. Morgan’s improvement in the ring has become much more noticeable and having her in there with a trusted veteran like Natalya will only help this growth continue. Morgan picks up the win in an uneventful but fine match.
We get a second introduction from Stephanie McMahon, followed by the exact same video opening, leading us into Gronk throwing us into the card proper, with Rhea Ripley defending the NXT Women’s Championship against the 2020 Royal Rumble winner Charlotte Flair. As this was one of the most anticipated matches of the weekend, its placement seemed a little weird, but it got the night off to a great start. Easily the best female match of the weekend, both Ripley and Flair tore into one another, as well as taking advantage of throwing verbal trash at one another to enhance the story they were telling in the ring. In the end, Flair would lock on the Figure-Eight making Ripley tap out.
Aleister Black would next defeat Bobby Lashley after Lana’s distraction backfired, leading him to run directly into a Black Mass. While not spectacular in any vein, the match succeeds in continuing to build Black as a superstar, while showing cracks in the armour between Lana and Lashley.
In maybe the most under-the-radar well-built storyline heading into WrestleMania, Otis would face Dolph Ziggler, who had Sonya Deville in tow. Following some distraction interference from Deville, Mandy Rose would enter the arena, taking out Sonya and low blowing Ziggler leading to Otis picking up the win. Following the win, we got the incredibly heartwarming moment of Mandy and Otis embracing with a kiss. As someone who is a fellow bearded fat guy, it absolutely made me smile ear to ear. Easily my low-key favorite moment of the weekend and one I wish had been in a full arena of fans. Just think of how huge that pop would have been when they finally kissed!
Moving onto the best-built storyline heading into the show of shows is the Last Man Standing match between Edge and Randy Orton. The storytelling between these two has been so good and they continue to tell a wonderful story throughout the match, although I think they were slightly hampered by the stipulation and the length of the match. If you cut about 15 minutes off this match it would have been just as effective and they could have cut down the amount of dead space between ‘falls.’ Highlights include the controversial moment where Orton attempted to hang Edge with weight equipment, especially since we just had the Dark Side Of The Ring Chris Benoit episode (check out my recap of Part One here and Part Two here) but it got people talking. Edge also took a page out of John Morrison’s parkour playbook to crawl on some chain link fencing to drop an elbow on Orton. The match would end up on one of the NXT transport trucks, including a spear and an RKO before Edge would emotionally end the match with a Conchairto. Again, this could have had some time shaved off (I actually believe this is officially the second-longest Mania match in history now, behind only the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII) but the storytelling was fantastic and showed Edge still absolutely has it.
The RAW Tag Team Championships would be defended by the Street Profits against the makeshift team of Angel Garza and NXT’s Austin Theory accompanied by Zelina Vega. While all of the talent in this match absolutely have bright futures, the lack of build and changes to the card really hurt this one. It would be redeemed by the post-match appearance from Bianca Belair helping her husband Montez Ford’s team even the odds. If for whatever reason there is a glass ceiling for Belair and Ford, I look forward to them smashing the ever-loving hell out of it with glee. Two bonafide stars right there.
The SmackDown Women’s Championship would be defended by Bayley in a five-pack challenge elimination match against Sasha Banks, Lacey Evans, Naomi and (lol) Tamina. While the work is serviceable, it’s clear the only intention of the match was to further build towards Bayley and Sasha’s eventual feud. It would come down to Bayley and Evans before Banks would reemerge hitting a Backstabber on Evans allowing Bayley to retain. I look forward to Sasha and Bayley continuing their historical feud from NXT but this match just seemed like a placeholder.
Finally, the one everyone was waiting for, the Firefly Funhouse match between The Fiend and John Cena. Where to even begin with this one. I will just briefly recap some of the things that happen because its unlike anything the world of professional wrestling has ever seen. Wyatt makes Cena visit back through his different versions, from reliving his debut against Kurt Angle, his transformation into the Doctor of Thuganomics, a revisiting of their match at WrestleMania 30, to an insane sequence where Wyatt becomes Eric Bischoff on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro, introducing a heel Cena pretending to be Hollywood Hogan. Finally, The Fiend defeats Cena by pinfall (counted by the unmasked version of Wyatt himself) and Cena vanishes while The Fiend stands tall. As the evil Vince McMahon puppet states during the segment, “this is such good shit!” I know I said it about the Boneyard Match, but this must be seen to be believed. One of the most artistic and unbelievable things I’ve ever seen in my near 35 years of wrestling fandom. I can see people watching and uncovering new tidbits from this segment for years to come. A game-changer, if you will.
Oh yeah, at some point Gronk would leap from the balcony onto Mojo Rawley and a bunch of extras trying to capture the 24/7 Championship to win the title himself, and then run off, abandoning his post as WrestleMania host. Yep, that’s a thing that happened.
Finally, our main event, with Brock Lesnar defending the WWE Heavyweight Championship against 2020 Royal Rumble winner Drew McIntyre. Unfortunately, following the Firefly Funhouse is an unenviable task, especially for a match that is basically a carbon copy of the previous nights Universal Championship. I really would have loved to see a pure wrestling match between two huge hosses, but I guess we just don’t get that any more from Lesnar. A few F5s and German Suplexes before a series of Claymores and we have a new WWE Heavyweight Champion. I am thrilled to see McIntyre get his moment in the sun, and I believe he should have a great run as Champion.
And there you have it, two nights of WrestleMania during these trying times. Was it all good? Certainly not, but I would venture to say the good outweighed the bad. The experimentation caused by the worldwide pandemic we are in certainly helped make what was already destined to be the weirdest Mania ever even stranger, but when or if the world ever returns to normal, I think the escapism provided by WWE, especially the Boneyard Match and the Firefly Funhouse match will live on favourably for a very long time.