WWE WrestleMania 36
To say that WWE WrestleMania 36 was a unique show would be an understatement. The current world circumstances left WWE with a choice: postpone Mania to a later date (albeit one that is far from certain right now), or hold the show in front of no fans. WWE chose the latter, and while there were downsides to that decision (I couldn’t even imagine how gutted I’d be if I had purchased tickets to my first ever Mania only for this to occur), the major positive is that fans would have a major event to look forward to at a time when few are being hold. The social distancing restrictions also heavily contributed to WWE holding the show over two nights for the first time ever, and it also meant that WWE wisely decided to tape the even in advance, which sounded bizarre when it was revealed but it ultimately made little difference during Mania weekend. The situation also led to the postponement of the Hall Of Fame ceremony, the cancellation of NXT TakeOver: Tampa, the pre-taping of the post-Mania Raw (it was actually recorded a day before the PPV), and the obvious postponement of Axxess. Translated, the only true remaining part of the weekend was WrestleMania.
You may be reading this at the present moment and reflecting upon the most unusual Mania card to date, or perhaps you will be reading this in the future, wondering aloud how the pandemic reached such a stage, hopefully with measurements in place to avoid such a problem ever occurring again. Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure: WWE WrestleMania 36 still happened, and here is what happened.
Drew Gulak vs. Cesaro
Corey Graves and Peter Rosenberg were stationed at WWE’s studios to handle presenting duties for the Kick-Off Show, before directing us to this warm-up match between Drew Gulak and Cesaro. After a rocky start, Gulak has now found his niche on the main roster as Daniel Bryan’s adviser, while Cesaro can always be relied upon to deliver a strong in-ring performance. The two men clicked very well here, and while they weren’t awarded a lot of time, they made the most of their minutes with some very good chain wrestling. Gulak triumphing would have been his biggest career moment, but instead Cesaro came out on top after finally bringing his no-handed airplane spin to WWE rings. This served its purpose, but with double the amount of time, this could have been one of the best matches of the whole weekend.
Stephanie McMahon provided a cold open from WWE’s studios before we were privy to a nice montage of performances of America The Beautiful from down the years at WrestleMania, with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Willie Nelson, John Legend and Boys II Men covered. Then, we had the usual over-the-top opening video, which still had a pirate theme despite the show no longer emanating from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, a venue which has a custom-built pirate ship at one end of the complex. It was certainly different, and it helped to maintain the feeling that this was a special event. The lack of a live audience and the expected minimal set unfortunately reduced the notion that this was WrestleMania, but with everything that is happening right now, that was to be expected. Rob Gronkowski a.k.a. Gronk and Mojo Rawley then offered their more upbeat intro, and while Gronk would prove to be incredibly irritating to spend more than five minutes with, at least they gave some much-needed energy within an almost-empty Performance Center.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
The Kabuki Warriors (C) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
In the official opening match (and with John Bradshaw Layfield back on commentary alongside Michael Cole for the SmackDown battles), Asuka and Kairi Sane defended the Women’s Tag Titles against BlissCross. This was given plenty of time, which helped to restore some prestige to a set of belts that have largely been forgotten about in recent months. All four strived to put on the best match possible, and while it took some time to adjust to the strange surroundings for an event the calibre of Mania, they did manage to cram enough action to hold one’s attention. It actually felt a bit too long, and might have benefitted from being trimmed by two or three minutes. Eventually, after numerous close calls, Alexa caught Kairi with Twisted Bliss (albeit on the legs rather than the ribs as is normally the case) and scored the pin to reclaim the Women’s Tag Team Titles for herself and Nikki Cross. It’s Alexa’s first Mania win, and it also meant that the once-unbeaten Asuka is now 0-3 on the grandest stage of them all.
Elias vs. King Corbin
This was a strange one. Gronk had made this match official a few weeks ago, then on the March 27 episode of SmackDown, Corbin knocked Elias off the crow’s nest balcony onto the floor in a humorous “splat” moment. Surely, Elias was hurt sufficiently enough that he couldn’t compete, right? Nope: he was here, and unlike at previous Manias where he sang for the live crowd, he was on hand to fight. The match itself was okay, but it felt like a basic TV match imported onto the biggest event of 2020. Corbin tried to steal the win with his feet on the ropes, but the referee noticed and reprimanded the King, only for babyface Elias to steal the pin himself via a handful of tights. I guess this got both men on the show, but this will probably join the likes of The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws and Finn Balor vs. Bobby Lashley as competent yet forgettable Mania bouts.
WWE Raw Women’s Championship Match
Becky Lynch (C) vs. Shayna Baszler
Besides the PG rating apparently allowing for the word “s–t” to be used in promo packages, the big talking point here concerned the outcome. Becky has held her title ever since dethroning Ronda Rousey in the main event at WrestleMania 35, and having vanquished virtually everybody who could pose a threat to her, it appeared that the Queen Of Spades would be the one to finally capture the gold. But it wasn’t to be: having made a fairly big entrance outside via a custom-designed 18-wheeler truck, Lynch brought the fight to Baszler and survived her most dangerous pieces of offence, which included a Kirifuda Clutch over the ropes. In the ring, both tried to submit the other to the Dis-Arm-Her, before Baszler finally locked the Kirifuda Clutch on Lynch in the centre of the ring. But Becky channelled Bret Hart against Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII by rolling backwards and using Shayna’s own move to effectively pin her, thus retaining her prize. As Becky enters her second year as Raw Women’s Champion, one must wonder who could possibly take the title from her now, and where does Shayna go on Raw, given that she is not the youngest member of the roster by any means? This was a well-worked match and it lived up to expectations, but the result will have caused the most controversy of any other on night one.
WWE Intercontinental Championship Match
Sami Zayn (C) vs. Daniel Bryan
The storyline going into this match was that Sami has become an absolute coward, wanting to avoid any kind of significant in-ring action at all costs. My assumption was that he would slightly drop the act to have a potentially great wrestling match against Bryan. Instead, that became the focus of the entire bout, and I don’t think it was a good decision. Zayn stalled and stalled and stalled with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura supporting his cause, and Drew Gulak tried to bat away the ringside heels. Eventually, Bryan told Gulak to let Sami go and walk backstage to take a countout loss, and of course this allowed him to attack him and send him back into the ring. There, Bryan dominated with his signature offence, but he became distracted by Cesaro and Shin, so he took them both out with a flying tope. This led him to taste a Helluva Kick by Sami, which allowed Zayn to retain the gold via pinfall. I can understand the thought behind this, but for a WrestleMania match – even in these circumstances – it was a letdown.
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Ladder Match
John Morrison (C) vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso
With The Miz medically excluded, JoMo was going it alone against one member of The New Day and just one Uso! The Ladder match stipulation remained, however, and if you know your Mania history, you’ll know that Ladder matches tend to be the highlights of these events. That proved to be the case again here, with all three exchanging slick counters, hard-hitting offence and barmy stunts. At one point, Morrison straddled across the top rope from one side of the ring to another to hit Kingston with a Spanish Fly back into the ring. The match did lack that one major spot which will be replayed for years to come, but it did have a creative finish: nowadays, title belts are placed on gold hangers within the karabiner, and all three managed to unhook the hanger together. The faces then nudged Morrison to the canvas, but in doing so, JoMo snatched both title belts, thus allowing him and Miz to retain. This was fun stuff; it obviously would have benefitted from being the original three-way tag as planned, but it was still worth watching. Incidentally, try and watch Morrison and Miz’s “Hey Hey Ho Ho” music video on the Mania pre-show, because it is pure unadulterated cheese of the so-bad-it’s-good variety.
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Next up, we finally had the big showdown between Owens and Rollins which has been on the cards since the night after Survivor Series. As expected, the two worked well together, and in this case, the lack of a crowd might have helped because oftentimes these presumed sure-fire bangers are hindered by an increasingly-exhausted live audience for these modern lengthy WM shows. Here, without any crowd noise, the two men could focus on having the match that their feud required, which was based primarily on two things: Owens shutting up Rollins as Raw’s “Messiah”, and KO getting his Mania moment (WM 33 doesn’t count nowadays) against a man who has won at least one match at his past seven WM events. Just as things were getting good, Seth got himself disqualified by clocking Owens with the ring bell, which seemed like a cop-out finish. Thankfully, Owens agreed and demanded that the match be restarted under No Disqualification rules. From there, Owens mostly dominated, which led to the big stunt of the weekend: WWE had brought in the Mania sign as a backdrop within the PC, and so Kevin climbed up that and launched himself a good 15 feet down onto Rollins, who was on an announcer’s table. The subsequent Stunner was a formality to give Owens his much-wanted win over Seth in what was overall a strong outing for both.
In between matches, Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton ran through the card for night two (that felt weird), and Paul Heyman reminded us why Brock Lesnar would definitely vanquish Drew McIntyre. Also, 24/7 Champion R-Truth joined Gronk and Mojo in the crow’s nest, and Gronk’s attempt to win the title was interrupted by Rawley, who pinned Truth himself to reclaim the green and gold championship to Gronk’s dismay.
WWE Universal Championship Match
Goldberg (C) vs. Braun Strowman
Originally, Goldberg was supposed to defend against Roman Reigns, but instead he was replaced by Strowman (that was the extent of WWE’s on-screen explanation, so why should I delve into the details?), who suddenly found himself with an opportunity to lift a major heavyweight title at a WrestleMania. This short bout was one of two halves: Goldberg hit several Spears to only earn a two-count, and then one more Spear was followed by a barrage of Powerslams, the last of which secured the pin for Braun. That’s your match. On the bright side, Goldberg looked respectable throughout, and the short length was going to apply regardless of the opponent or the setting. And though it wasn’t the plan, Strowman has benefitted and is now finally in possession of one of WWE’s top prizes. Who knows how long he will hold it for, but Strowman can officially say that his days of trying and failing to win the big one are over. As for Goldberg, his latest comeback run proved to be very strange, but I wouldn’t be surprised if WWE tries to stage that Goldberg-Reigns match again in the future.
The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles
After Greg Hamilton announced a new WrestleMania live attendance record of 0 (okay, I made that bit up), it was time to close out the first night with something totally different. AJ Styles has gotten very personal with The Undertaker in recent weeks, so much so that the mystique of the Dead Man has been left behind for a version of Undertaker far closer to the American Bad Ass. And in order to try and make at least one of the Mania matches feel like a spectacle, this bout was designated to take place at a graveyard. The rules were never explained, but it appeared that this was a Buried Alive match, albeit on location.
AJ arrived in a hearse, mocking Taker by being brought out of a casket by some mysterious druids. Taker arrived in style, and channeled his ABA days by rolling in on a motorbike; indeed, it was Biker Taker, but with some gongs and higher powers to build him up. Taker easily controlled Styles early on in what resembled a fight scene in a movie rather than a wrestling match, until Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson helped AJ to turn the tide by jumping The Dead Man, as did a bunch of other druids. Because of the presentation, each punch was treated as a big move, which helped them to provide a lot by actually doing very little; case in point, AJ throwing mud in Taker’s eyes was a major spot here. The druids turned on Taker (they were never unmasked, so who knows which future Mania main eventers were under those disguises) and he batted them away,, but it did allow Styles to effectively spear UT through what looked like a garage wall. Styles managed to knock Undi into a grave and was just about to use a JCB to bury him alive, only for The Phenom to appear behind him! From there, Taker was on a roll, and on top of the, erm, conservatory, Taker chokeslammed Gallows to the floor (yep) and Tombstoned Anderson, before chokeslamming AJ off their platform onto the ground below. Taker teased letting AJ walk away, having put up such a good fight, but instead he booted him straight into the grave, where Taker buried him via the JCP. Now 25-2 at WrestleMania, Undertaker held his arm up Biker-style to reveal a blue UT symbol on the building behind him, and he drove away on his motorcycle to end the first night of WrestleMania 36.
Some will have loved this, and some will have hated it. I personally enjoyed it, and given the circumstances, this definitely stood out and felt like something special. Undertaker winning was inevitable, but AJ looked as strong as the storyline would allow him, and we got the pay-off of Taker putting the arrogant AJ in his place (giving Styles his second Mania loss in the process). What’s more, because of how this was filmed, it was actually Taker’s best Mania outing since he clashed with CM Punk at WM 29. Sure, it would have been good to have seen a proper wrestling match between the two, but maybe we’ll get that further down the line. For what this was, the Boneyard Match promised to be memorable, and that proved to be the case, while apparently bringing back the Big Evil version of Undertaker in the process.
Natalya vs. Liv Morgan
We now move onto the second night of action, which had this women’s division bout as a pre-show offering. Given the circumstances, this was perfectly passable; it wasn’t very memorable, partly since there was no issue whatsoever between the two ladies, but just having some additional action is a bonus at this point. Morgan scored the win by coming out on top of a range of back-and-forth pinfall attempts. That Nattie has been around so long in WWE and still only has one Mania win to her name (as part of a pre-show ten-woman tag at WM 32 no less) is pretty strange.
NXT Women’s Championship Match
Rhea Ripley (C) vs. Charlotte Flair
After a brief second intro from Stephanie McMahon and the same opening montage as night one, it was time for Rhea Ripley to become the first person to defend an NXT prize of any kind at WrestleMania against The Queen. This was a very well-worked match, in large part because it told a logical story: throughout the bout, Flair continuously worked on the left knee of Ripley, and she did so having survived an early Riptide, a move that very few have kicked out of. Though Ripley certainly put up a strong fight in return, the knee proved to give her problems on numerous occasions, and Charlotte’s strategy eventually paid dividends when she trapped Ripley in the Figure-Eight, which earned her the victory via submission clean as a whistle, even if she did work like a heel. This was good stuff, and arguably the best wrestling match of the entire Mania weekend. Fans will be up in arms at Ripley losing, but since she’s staying on NXT for now, she’ll get a chance to rebound, while Charlotte’s presence will elevate the Wednesday night brand.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
This was pure filler, and a way to get Aleister onto the Mania show, especially given that Lashley hadn’t appeared on Raw at all in recent weeks. It was a decent effort, but when the most noteworthy aspect of the contest was Lashley debuting long tights, you know that it’s not particularly memorable. In the end, the most important aspect seemed to be the first sign of some dissension in the Lana-Lashley relationship: Bobby had Black ready for his current version of the Dominator, but Lana requested a spear instead. Bobby tried to oblige, but instead he ran straight into Black Mass to give Aleister the win. Post-match, Lana (who seemed to have dyed her hair slightly brown) seemed unhappy, so could it be that Lanashley will soon be no more?
Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler
This was the pay-off to a simple but very effective storyline: Otis, the larger and somewhat uneducated member of Heavy Machinery, somehow caught the eye of Mandy Rose, and eventually plucked up the courage to ask her out for a date. A meal was set for Valentine’s Day, only for a text message to delay proceedings enough that Dolph Ziggler swooped in. Mandy moved on, breaking Otis’ heart, but it was revealed that Sonya Deville had sent the text which prevented Otis making it on time, all so that she could continue teaming with Mandy while Dolph could have Rose (basically, because she didn’t like Otis). The upshot was this match, and Ziggler survived Otis’ early onslaught long enough to take control. Otis fought back, but a Deville distraction allowed Ziggler to hit a low blow. This brought out Mandy, who slapped Sonya and booted Dolph in the balls behind the referee’s back, allowing Otis to hit the Caterpillar for the victory. Post-match, Otis and Mandy enjoyed a kiss, as the most heartwarming love story since Randy and Liz reached its climax. All’s well that ends well, then, though it’s interesting to wonder whether Tucker (who was injured by Dolph on SmackDown, hence his absence) will support his friend now that he has achieved true love, or if he’ll also grow jealous and stab Otis in the back.
Last Man Standing Match
Edge vs. Randy Orton
Next up, it was time for the Rated R Superstar to finally get his hands on The Viper proper, and though Edge obviously returned in the Royal Rumble match, this was arguably this true comeback. Orton made Edge wait before striking with an RKO from out of nowhere while dressed as a cameraman, and when the bell rang, Orton hit a second RKO. Edge survived, and from there, they battled all over the Performance Center, from the ringside area to the gym to the office to the parking lot. It was a very long scrap, and it was much more of a fight than a wrestling match, but in this environment and with their stipulation, it worked. Edge looked impressive, at one point hitting an elbow off a platform to drive Orton through a table, while Randy grafted to ensure that this would stand out in one’s mind when the show was said and done. They eventually battled onto an 18-wheeler truck, where Edge finally Speared Orton, but then he tasted a third RKO. With Edge still not beaten, Orton conveniently located two steel chairs and prepared a Conchairto, but Edge retaliated with his new submission hold that passed Randy out long enough for him to hit his own Conchairto for the win; Edge was battling tears as he took out his close friend in a neat twist, which suggests that despite the ire that both men have had for one another in recent months, a Rated RKO reunion in the future could still happen. For now, though, Edge is back, and with a victory to boot.
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship Match
The Street Profits (C) vs. Angel Garza & Austin Theory
What would normally be deemed as the cool-down match for a live audience marked the Mania debut for all four competitors. Theory was substituting for Andrade, whose presumed United States title defence will be saved for a future date. This was watchable enough, and given everything that had led up to this Mania in the real world, just having some sort of fun wrestling to watch is better than nothing, so it’s hard to criticise a match that would normally not be deemed strong enough for a Mania event. And this did have some cool spots, in particular Montez Ford’s senton to the floor followed by a Garza top rope moonsault. In the end, Angelo Dawkins pinned Theory to retain, but afterwards the heels ambushed the faces, only for Bianca Belair – Ford’s wife – to come out and attack Zelina Vega, which also allowed The Profits to chase away Garza and Austin. Bianca seems to be on Raw now, then, and once the crowds are allowed back into the arenas, she will likely get over with the main roster fans very quickly.
Oh, I forgot to mention that prior to that tag bout, Gronk captured the 24/7 title after diving off the crow’s nest onto Mojo Rawley and a bunch of unidentified people, as he had promised a little earlier to achieve. This left Titus O’Neil to host what remained of the event, thankfully without slipping.
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship Elimination Match
Bayley (C) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Tamina
The fifth and final women’s match of the weekend saw Bayley defend her title against four ladies (it should have been five, but Dana Brooke was unable to compete as planned), with three underlying stories: Bayley’s ongoing rivalries with Naomi and Lacey, the return of Tamina (shudder), and the potential for the Bayley-Banks heel friendship to finally fall apart. Tamina dominated early on, and for a good while, before all of her opponents hit her with finishing moves, leading to all four pinning her to eliminate her. Naomi gave a good showing, but she ended up being the second person gone when she submitted to the Bank Statement. Then came a big moment, as Bayley inadvertently kneed Sasha in the head when aiming for Evans, which led to an argument between the besties. Before it could disintegrate further, though, Lacey clocked Sasha with the Woman’s Right to eliminate her, though Bayley could have probably made the save, as the announcers noticed. Bayley did manage to survive Lacey’s moonsault, and after Banks interfered to give Evans a Backstabber (since this was No DQ, I guess?), Bayley drilled Lacey to score the pin. Afterwards, Sasha placed the title around Bayley’s waist, but it’s inevitable that these two will eventually clash for said prize, but how long we have to wait for such a showdown remains to be seen (it might be soon, given that Bayley vs. Tamina doesn’t sound like a great post-Mania feud).
Firefly Fun House Match
John Cena vs. The Fiend
We knew that this one would be different, but nobody could have predicted how insane it would be. Cena initially made a typical entrance before we were taken to the FFH, where Bray Wyatt gave a quick introduction before heading through his front door. Cena showed up, via teleportation I guess, and then under the advice of Ramblin’ Rabbit, he entered through the door into darkness where he was greeted by … the Vince puppet, who wanted Ruthless Aggression. Suddenly, we went into flashback mode, with Wyatt playing Kurt Angle and Cena donning his very old-school tights circa 2002 as his debut was re-enacted (with the old SmackDown fist to boot), albeit with Bray dodging Cena’s initial slap; he noted that this was Cena’s biggest failure, throwing in a nod to his past relationship with Nikki Bella as a bonus. Bray brought up Cena’s childhood dreams of becoming a wrestler, which somehow then led us to a homage for Saturday Night’s Main Event, and in front of the old blue bar steel cage, “Muscle Ma Dance” Bray was joined by Cena – as “Johnny Largemeat” – parodying Hulk Hogan. Puppet Vince was now on semi-commentary with Mercy The Buzzard, though Cena’s immense strength let him down here, as Bray noted his ego was out of control.
It was then time for a tribute to rapper Cena, with John coming out in the same attire from Mania 35, and he cut a brief rap on Bray, with some dodgy insults that seemed to have now earned this event a TV-14 rating on the Network (there was also a Husky Harris reference of all things). But with no crowd there, nobody was responding, so Wyatt asked Cena why he was being such a bully. After that, and with Bray having avoided contact so far, Wyatt clocked Cena with his chain, before taking us back to WrestleMania XXX. Bray was now portraying his former self, while Cena was donning his 2014 T-shirt, and we came to the moment of Wyatt demanding a chairshot from Cena in order to embrace the dark side, noting that John made the wrong choice six years ago. This time, Cena swung for Bray but missed, and this somehow led us to an homage for WCW/nWo Monday Nitro, where Wyatt played Eric Bischoff and Cena played the heel Hollywood Hulk Hogan (Puppet Vince: “That’s some good s–t!”, totally uncensored by the way). This allowed Bray to remind Cena of his biggest career mishaps, and how John being a villain would be his way to bounce back. Cena grounded Wyatt at this point and punched him until he realised he was all alone, back in his usual guise, and punching Huskus The Pig. This then allowed The Fiend to finally appear, and he trapped Cena in the Mandible Claw while John’s previous monologue about an “overhyped, overrated, overprivileged” competitor played in the background, thus giving Fiend the “win”.
Yowie wowie, this was bizarre. This definitely wasn’t a match, and was instead something that WWE fans have never seen before, as we essentially mixed Wyatt’s career history with Cena’s, noting how their Mania XXX bout provided something of a crossroads, with Cena going off into Hollywood and Bray’s life crumbling until he entered the Firefly Fun House. Don’t show this to anybody who wants to still believe that professional wrestling is a competitive sport, but for sports entertainment enthusiasts who want to be mesmerised by a segment that goes into directions that would have once seemed unfathomable, this is a must-see. I don’t know how this will hold up in the future, and it’s safe to say that this would not have been presented in the same manner had Mania 36 been in front of fans as intended, but it’s definitely something that nobody watching will ever forget. Wyatt/Fiend has his retribution over Cena after all these years, Cena himself has a reason to go AWOL again (possibly for a very long time), and the segment as a whole will be replayed in gif form and across social media endlessly. It speaks volumes that this may have been the craziest thing that WWE has ever produced given its history, but I think that was achieved with this “match”.
WWE Championship Match
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Drew McIntyre
And so we come to the main event, which was a fairly short match: McIntyre hit an immediate Claymore Kick for a two-count, and then Brock took over with some suplexes. Drew kicked out of an F5 at one, which I don’t recall happening before. Lesnar hit two more F5’s, and again McIntyre survived (Paul Heyman at ringside: “He’s good!”). Lesnar and Heyman agreed that they would pound Drew all night if they had to, but Drew avoided a fourth F5 by striking with three straight Claymore Kicks for the pin and for McIntyre to finally win his first WWE Title. This might have been longer in ideal circumstances, but for what it was, it worked, as Drew conclusively beat The Beast and ascended to the main event throne in WWE at long last.
And so ends the most unorthodox WrestleMania of all-time. Despite the challenges, WWE managed to pull it off, and though the absence of a live audience and the necessitated small setting meant that this really didn’t feel much like a WrestleMania at all, it still felt like a unique show, one which offered a mixture of gripping entertainment, madcap concepts, intense brawling, strong wrestling action and forgettable filler. At this point, we should be thankful that the event took place at all, and when the time comes where fans can once again attend WWE shows, the company should strive to mark the occasion with a bang. If nothing else, those who are planning to attend WrestleMania 37 will hopefully make the most of their opportunity when March 28 2021 comes around, because this year proved that nothing should be taken for granted.
Going forward, I hope that WWE continues presenting Mania over two nights, because as a viewing experience, this was far easier to digest than a five-to-six hour show with a two-hour pre-show. Fans are generally exhausted by the final hour or so, meaning that some potential classics are adversely affected, whereas this tighter alternative allows fans to truly enjoy each match for what it offers. It also allows WWE to make a lot more money if they can attract tens of thousands of followers for two nights rather than one; tweaking Mania weekend so that we get, say, the Hall Of Fame on Thursday, SmackDown on Friday, a two-night Mania over the weekend, Raw on Monday, NXT TakeOver on Tuesday and NXT on Wednesday sounds like a WWE fan’s dream. Obviously, if WWE trims the roster over the next twelve months then a one-night card (or at least a one-night card with an extended half-time show a la the Superbowl, which could also allow WWE to try and bring some genuine musical celebrities on board) might still suffice, but given the choice right now, I’d go for the long weekend. And while it wasn’t preferable for WM to be so stripped-back, the quieter vibe was actually a bit soothing compared to how overwhelming the noise, the lights and everything else can sometimes be, especially on the super-long editions like WM 35.
In terms of what made the biggest impact: Becky vs. Shayna, Owens vs. Rollins and Rhea vs. Charlotte made the biggest impressions from a wrestling standpoint, while the Ladder match had its moments, and the two big title wins elevated McIntyre and Strowman, the latter somewhat unintentionally. In addition, the Last Man Standing match provided a worthy, if overly long, conclusion to the Edge-Orton story, and the Otis-Mandy fairytale reached the desired conclusion. And then you come to the two off-location contests, with one being a brutal fight akin to a movie, and the other being a collection of the wackiest ideas imaginable. The rest of the weekend didn’t do much, and Gronk was not exactly a vintage Mania host (even if he did do more than most by scheduling one match and becoming 24/7 Champion), but in terms of the significant matches, almost everything achieved what WWE had hoped.
It goes without saying that there will (hopefully) never be another WrestleMania like this, and in this situation, this was the best that WWE could have done to provide an event as close to a Mania as possible. At the same time, nothing came close to matching Taker-Shawn or Bret-Austin as an all-time Mania classic, nor were there any moments akin to Lesnar breaking the Streak or Hogan slamming Andre, and I would argue that these points would have likely remained valid if WM 36 had emanated from Tampa Bay as planned. Nevertheless, judged in a vacuum, WWE WrestleMania 36 offered plenty of entertainment, while still helping to set up the directions for the Raw, SmackDown and NXT brands over the coming months, as well as providing several performers with their much-desired Mania moments. Ultimately, though, I will always remember WWE WrestleMania 36 for the extenuating circumstances, some career-defining victories, Kevin Owens’ loopy bump off the WM sign, and the Boneyard Match and Firefly Fun House segment, the likes of which we may never see again.