So I promised a new piece reviewing this past weekend’s WrestleMania 36 & to be honest, I really have mixed feelings on the whole thing.
To start off, thinking logically about the whole ordeal with everything going on in the world today with everyone in quarantine and seemingly every form of live entertainment put on hold with the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s really hard for me to understand the “The Show Must Go On” train of thought considering the health of everyone involved in performing, recording, producing & distributing the two nights of WWE action. However, on the other hand, with all forms of live entertainment put on hold, people holed up in their homes, WWE has always prided themselves for “putting smiles on peoples’ faces” and in this time of “social distancing”, I also see the need for a show like this — to try to provide some sense of normalcy during a time that is anything but normal.
With all that being said, the show did, in fact, go on and was split between two nights — which made it 150% more watchable in my opinion! I actually was able to watch both nights on the nights that they aired…a feat I haven’t been able to accomplish in YEARS!
Let me preface this with a couple things: 1) I haven’t been able to watch the kickoff matches yet, so I won’t review those. However, the Drew Gulak vs. Cesaro match has me salivating as a diehard wrestling fan…I’m sure it certainly won’t disappoint when I do get around to watching it! 2) I really haven’t been following main roster storylines in MONTHS, so if I miss some of the nuances of storylines, it’s because I really only watch NXT these days.
So the main show on Saturday night kicked off with The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka & Kairi Sane) losing the WWE Womens’ Tag Team Titles to Bliss Cross (Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross). I thought the action was fine for what it was, but I’m not sure I’d have started the show off with this match. First, I think some of the combatants in this match are miscast. Alexa Bliss is a natural heel and I don’t think this babyface version of the character works very well. On the flipside, I just don’t see Kairi Sane as a devious heel & as it appeared to me in this match, she just plays second fiddle to Asuka & doesn’t seem to have much of a personality at all while back in NXT, she played a pretty decent white meat, overachieving underdog babyface. So there’s half the competitors in this match that are playing characters who don’t fit their abilities as character actors. But like I said, the action was fine and I guess starting off with a title change gets the show off to a hot start.
Next up, Elias defeated King Corbin. Again, here we are with Elias who was getting so over as a heel that I suppose they were forced to turn him babyface, but in doing so, now he doesn’t have the same bite that he used to that the character just isn’t what it used to be. On the flipside, Baron Corbin is probably one of the most hated guys on the card & while that’s good, considering he’s a heel…I get the feeling it’s more “get off my TV” heel heat & not the type of heel heat that was expected of real heels back in the day like the Four Horsemen. So he we are with a character who is on the wrong side of the book vs. a guy who the fans can’t stand to watch. Just scintillating television! This show gets better, I promise!
Following that debacle, we got the heavily anticipated match between the Raw Womens’ Champion, Becky Lynch (who won the title at last year’s WrestleMania!) vs. former 2-time NXT Womens’ Champion, Shayna Baszler. As I spoke on PWInsider audio last week, I expected a good to great match out of these two especially since the lead-up (from what I had seen) had been pretty fantastic! For the most part, this match did deliver. Shayna looked like a monster & Becky came off as the fighting champion she’s been all year long. While the match was very well done, the finish is where I take issue with Vince’s booking here.
In the past, one’s history in NXT was kind of glazed over and a character was rewritten or often times completely changed when being moved to the main roster. However, in recent times — especially now since NXT has been featured on USA Network — a character’s history isn’t completely forgotten and their career just continues on from show to show. This did not happen in the case of Shayna Baszler. I’ll explain: back when Shayna first debuted in NXT, her character was mostly as it is now, but it was perceived that she was a rookie in the world of professional wrestling and in a match with Ember Moon, after locking in the Kirifuda Clutch, Ember rolled backwards, holding Baszler down for the three count. In a later matchup between the same two, this same scenario came to be and Shayna learned from her previous mistake and released the hold, thus getting out of the pin. This was also far from the last time she would remember to release the hold to get out of the pinning predicament. Well, fast forward to this past Saturday night and she’s back to committing rookie mistakes and loses to Becky the exact same way she lost to Ember at TakeOver: Philadelphia over TWO YEARS AGO. As I said, I was a fan of the match, just not the finish.
The next match was great & probably my favorite match of the night as Intercontinental Champion, Sami Zayn defeated Daniel Bryan. This one’s story was that Zayn promised to win this match without allowing Bryan to lay a hand on him. The backstory here was that at last month’s Elimination Chamber pay per view, Zayn won the title by defeating Braun Strowman in a 3-on-1 handicap match in which whoever defeated Strowman would become the champion. The story all match was that Zayn would cheap shot Strowman and before Braun could get his hands on Zayn, he would tag out to either Cesaro or Shinsuke Nakamura, and they would take the beating. So here we are a month later, and Zayn thinks somehow he’s going to avoid all of Daniel Bryan’s offense and defeat him. Bryan had other plans…he brought Drew Gulak with him to help hold off Nakamura & Cesaro — and it worked, mostly. It was only in the finish where the numbers game would overwhelm Gulak & Bryan, costing Bryan the match. But a really great match with a lot of really talented performers involved!
The following match was the singles ladder match for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles(?). The story here was that The Miz wasn’t able to compete at WrestleMania, so this tag team ladder match was converted to a singles ladder match pitting John Morrison against Jimmy Uso and Kofi Kingston — all great performers who thrive in ladder matches. A lot of really fun plunder in this — as would be expected — and thankfully, Morrison retained, so that a Tag Team Championship doesn’t change hands in a singles match. Good match for what it was with a good ending.
After that, we got a No Disqualification Match between Seth Rollins & Kevin Owens, which KO predictably won. I think by this time, I was starting to tire of the gimmick matches and just wanted some straight up one-on-one matches without any extras, so while this one was decent, I also felt like I had seen Rollins vs. Owens SO many times before that it was going to be hard for those two to really wow me.
Moving on, we got 53-year old Bill Goldberg losing the Universal Title to Braun Strowman, who was subbing for Roman Reigns. Considering what Goldberg’s matches are, this one was predictably short with few moves. I was, however, surprised by the fact that WWE finally decided to put the title on Strowman considering how long they’ve been yo-yoing the guy for the last two years. My only concern now is that he’ll be a transitional champion, and as soon as this pandemic is over, the belt will be slid over to Goldberg’s originally planned opponent while Strowman gets shoved back down the card again.
And finally, rounding out Night One of WrestleMania 36, we were treated to a Hollywood B-Horror Movie in the Boneyard Match between AJ Styles (or Allen, as Mark called him during this “match”) and the Undertaker. Yes, we got uber personal in this one as both combatants called each other by their real first names! OOOOHHHHH! This thing was so Goddamn awful to sit through that when Undertaker seemingly MURDERED AJ Styles to end the “match”, I was more than happy to turn the television off. AJ Styles is legitimately one of the best professional wrestlers today…the things he does in the ring are unlike most others. He’s an excellent storyteller and truly is the Phenomenal One. Using him like this at your biggest show of the year is an absolute travesty! He deserved better!
The show continued the following night and opened up with a hotly contested NXT Womens’ Championship Match with Rhea Ripley losing the title to Charlotte Flair. Scott & I spoke about this match on Hey Yo! Radio last week on PWInsider.com…having Rhea take the title to WrestleMania only for her to lose it does nothing for Rhea, in fact it says that she belongs in the “lesser brand” of NXT because she couldn’t successfully defend her title on a big stage. So now she goes back to NXT empty-handed while Charlotte Flair is also going to NXT? I just don’t understand this booking decision.
The whole leadup to the match was fantastic, I’ll give them that…and the match was VERY good and got the ball rolling in the right direction to start off Night Two of WrestleMania, I just certainly would NOT have switched the title. So in two matches now, where the women of NXT attempted to take a big step forward in their careers, they were both slapped down by the clearly superior superstars from the main roster.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley was up next, and I’ve gotta say…Lashley really is an impressive specimen, it’s just too bad WWE uses him terribly. Black started out the match trying to out-wrestle Lashley, which seemed way out of place here considering that Black’s strengths have always been his strikes. Once he righted his approach, he scored the victory by hitting Black Mass on Lashley. Good come-down match after the ultra-dramatic match that started the night off. This one served it’s purpose.
The next singles match pitted Otis
Dozovic vs. Dolph Ziggler in a feud over Mandy Rose. So let me get this straight…in one match, Bobby Lashley is being managed by Rusev’s wife, Lana…but those two don’t have a WrestleMania match, and now in this one, again we have a love triangle between Otis, Mandy & Dolph. Does Vince just not get any loving at home anymore? The end saw Mandy cost Dolph the match and leave in Otis’ arms. Next?
Next up was Edge’s triumphant return to WrestleMania nine years after retiring, defeating Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match. Another gimmick match…*sigh* But this one took you on a tour of the WWE Performance Center! We got to go “backstage” through the various areas of the PC while Edge & Orton kicked the crap out of each other. We even got to go into the conference room where we got to see Canyon Ceman release or give raises to a few talents back on Breaking Ground, we went down the hallway outside of Albert’s office and even into areas that Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa brawled in just weeks ago on NXT television! At one point, I wondered if they were going to trash Albert’s office as a rib on him, but sadly, it didn’t happen. The end saw Edge hitting a tearful one-man con-chair-to on Randy Orton on top of an NXT production truck to score the victory. Great fight with some serious drama — especially in the closing minutes!
Following up that drama-heavy match was the Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins & Montez Ford) successfully defending their Raw Tag Team Titles against the makeshift team of Angel Garza & Austin Theory (subbing for an ill Andrade
“Cien” Almas. It’s a shame that Andrade couldn’t make it for this match, he’s a really great performer! Once again, we needed a cooldown match after that Last Man Standing Match, so this one fit right in nicely. Montez Ford continues to impress with his incredible athleticism! Bianca Belair (Ford’s real-life wife) took care of an irate Zelina Vega post-match and was lifted on the shoulders of the Profits’ to celebrate afterward. Seemingly, this is her transition to Monday Night Raw…sadly, NXT just lost one of my favorites. She’ll always be the EST of NXT and should’ve been given a run with the Womens’ Title, hopefully she won’t get lost in the shuffle or misunderstood or misused on the main roster.
Speaking of being misunderstood AND misused on the main roster, (the heel) Bayley was up next, defending her Smackdown Womens’ Title in a 5-way elimination match against Naomi, Tamina, Sasha Banks & (a babyface) Lacey Evans. Another couple of talents being booked incorrectly. Had Vince understood the Bayley character, we would have never had to watch her play this character that just doesn’t fit her. The same goes for Lacey Evans. She’s such a great smarmy heel, but now is being pushed into being a babyface. Just more mischaracterizations. Bayley outlasts everyone in the end and gets help from Sasha after she had already been eliminated to defeat Lacey last. Clearly, that feud is not over yet.
Next up in VinCinema, we got John Cena returning to face “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse Match. This one had “Broken” Matt Hardy’s Final Deletion written all over it, but with a twist. Lots of rolling back of gimmicks for both Cena & Wyatt as Cena played his “Doctor of Thuganomics” gimmick and also returned to his debut look as the guy with RUTHLESS AGGRESSION while Wyatt played his backwoods cult leader gimmick & also was mentioned as Husky Harris. They redid scenes that were originally shot with Hulk Hogan & Mr. T, and even did a spoof on nWo Nitro, Eric Bischoff and Hollywood Hogan. This thing was just so bizarre, but as it ended, all I could say was “I didn’t hate it!?!” In fact, I was fairly entertained by it. Now will I go back & watch it again? Definitely not…but it was certainly FAR better of a pre-taped segment than that Boneyard Match from the night before.
Finally, to close out the weekend, Brock Lesnar lost his Undisputed WWE Heavyweight Championship of the World (as Paul Heyman would call it) to Drew McIntyre. This was a decent match. I still would like to see more out of Lesnar than resorting strictly to the German suplexes and F-5s , but that’s what he does these days when the guy clearly is able to do FAR more. That’s what Vince wants out of him, so who can blame the guy…he gets paid boatloads of money to do very little. I was, however, disappointed when Heyman didn’t get up on the apron to announce Lesnar for the match. But the match accomplished what it needed to. Drew weathered Brock’s onslaught of suplexes & F-5s, recovered and laid Lesnar out with a number of Claymore Kicks to take the title.
Congrats to our new, REIGNING AND DEFENDING, UNDISPUTED WWE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD….Drew McIntyre! It’s been a long road, but it’s been great seeing him grow as a performer to the point that he’s at the top of the food chain in WWE now!
That’ll do it for me here, sorry this one was so long, but I had a lot to get out on this show. For the first time in YEARS, I was able to watch WrestleMania in it’s entirety on the same night it aired! Maybe splitting it up between two night wasn’t such a bad idea after all?
Thanks for reading!