WWE – Wrestlemania 36 (Cert 15)
2 discs Blu-ray/ 3 discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 372 minutes approx.
Those of you as old as I am might recall when Summerslam 92 was being promoted the tagline was “The Summerslam You Never Thought You’d See!” It many respects that legend should have resurrected for this year’s Wrestlemania!
Once the dreaded Coronavirus (or COVID-19 as is your wont) spread everywhere and everyone as told to stay at home, this put live public gatherings in jeopardy, such as music concerts, theatre shows and sports events. Ever the maverick (read: pig headed), Vince McMahon decided this wasn’t to prevent him from running his biggest show of the year, despite the stadium venue being shut down.
Luckily, Triple H’s dream to turn WWE into a one-stop wrestling factory meant there was still one venue open to run matches if needed – the WWE Performance Centre. Designed to give trainees somewhere to train, learn how to work, refine their ring skills and give production staff a place to learn their craft, the PC also has a small arena, so when social distancing came into effect, Vince simply taped all of his TV shows in this empty building.
Of course, this meant he had to do the same with Wrestlemania 36 after calls by many to cancel the show since a huge financial loss would be incurred but Vince wanted the show to go on. So, the culmination of all the big storylines and feuds, took place in an empty building to complete silence!
To be fair to Vince, he was at least aware that the usual 8-hour event wouldn’t fly under such circumstances so he followed New Japan’s example with their annual Tokyo Dome show in January and split the show over two days, so he could promote this year’s event as “Too Big For Just One Night!” And to give everyone a break, it was pre-taped, giving the wrestlers the surreal opportunity of watching themselves on PPV “live” with everyone else!
Wrestlemania 36 was taped on March 25th and 26th at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida with an attendance of approximately 0 fans, and broadcast on April 4th and April 5th 2020 with commentary provided by Michael Cole and JBL for SD and Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton for RAW.
As ever, while my match review won’t contain any results or major spoilers because the DVD back cover artwork does that for me, expect plenty of opinion, backstory to the matches and a VERY long post!
The event actually opens with Big Steph explaining the whole lockdown deal for those who hadn’t already noticed they were stuck indoors, although in true WWE fashion, the pandemic was never mentioned because that would mean Vince admitting the WWE Universe wasn’t real; remember, this is a guy who still hasn’t been told the truth about Santa Claus.
WWE also had some American football player called The Gonk to be the “host” of the show. He’s you typical “wacky” US personality – loud, wears big sunglasses and colourful clothes, thinks he is funny, obnoxious – the very reason the skip button was invented on media players.
WWE Women’s Tag Title Match – Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
This match marked the return to WWE TV of Kairi Sane after being in Japan with her new husband (and yes, that is the sound of my heart breaking), whilst Asuka was left to carry this feud on her own. Basically, Alex and Nikki kept moaning that the Women’s Tag belts were always being defended on RAW and accuse the Kabuki’s of ducking them, so Asuka responded by kicking their heads in!
For those who don’t watch Joshi (Women’s) wrestling in Japan, because the crowds are so quiet the wrestlers make a lot of noise to compensate, which is why Asuka and Kairi weren’t the least bit fazed by the lack of crowd presence. Pretty good match to open the show, with Kairi looking good, Nikki really getting into her role and Asuka being her usual awesome self. Alexa wasn’t too bad but many of her moves just didn’t have any believable impact, her Twisted Bliss finisher missing by a mile.
King Corbin vs. Elias
Elias is the face here but with no crowd it’s hard to tell. The build up for this match featured the usual over egging of the pudding, by having Corbin throw Elias off a high podium to the concrete floor below that would have normally led to a fatality or at least paralysis and brain damage. But this WWE so Elias simply came back a week later with some tape on his shoulder! Tough guy or what?
Not a great match but better than it had any right to be which isn’t saying much. At least both were already used to working before a silent crowd.
WWE RAW Women’s Title Match – Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler
Surprisingly early placement on the card for this match giving Lynch’s marquee name status over the past year. The build up has been erratic to say the least. First Shayna went over both Becky and Bayley at Survivor Series then she entered the Royal Rumble which she was going to win until Vince stupidly changed his mind. Baszler then jumped Becky on RAW taking a bite out of her neck like she was a vampire, but this was quickly dropped.
Baszler then had to win the Elimination Chamber match in order to challenge Becky, who had been acting like a fool on TV with nobody to face, then got serious once this match was booked, though Shayna was left standing as the dominant one. A good hard hitting match, there was a slight clash of styles with Baszler’s MMA background but they worked it out in the end, though it was kept short, less than ten minutes. How you feel about the result depends on how you feel about Lynch being a yearlong champion.
WWE IC Title Match – Sami Zayn (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
Zayn pinned previous IC Champ Braun Strowman at Elimination Chamber in a 3-on-1 Handicap match, and has been hiding behind Cesaro and Nakamura ever since in avoiding Bryan’s challenge. Meanwhile, Bryan teamed up with Drew Gulak after they faced off at Elimination Chamber, and it was Gulak defeating Nakamura to earn Bryan’s title shot against Zayn. Confused?
Not a bad match since Bryan is such a canny, well-rounded wrestler who can work any style and not be fazed by an empty building whilst Zayn channelled his inner Larry Zbyszko by stalling for half the match. Quick side note – Gulak faced Cesaro in a decent pre-show match found in the extras!
WWE SD Tag Title Triple Threat Ladder Match – John Morrison (c) vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso
This might be a first but the SD tag titles are being contested in a three-way match with singles competitors. The reason for this was Miz showed up to the SD tapings ill (not COVID but something else) so he was sent home but they still advertised the three-way match for the PPV, changing it at the last minute to one representative per team but not mentioning this salient fact on the show itself. It’s not they already had our money…
Anyway, for a match that was pre-recorded and edited, they left some awkward and bad looking spots in which could have been excised. A few moments of innovation can be found here but without a crowd to react to the big bumps, it comes across like an act of needless masochism to take all that punishment in front of nobody. A decent enough try under difficult circumstances and a nice finish but not without its practical caveats.
Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens
These two actually feuded over the Universal Title back in 2016, culminating in a Hell In A Cell match, but with the heel-face dynamic now reversed, I suspect we are supposed to forget that. This has been building since late 2019 ever since Rollins formed a group with the AOP (absent due to injury) and Buddy Murphy (absent due to be being ginger) which saw Samoa Joe turn face in teaming with Owens, but a concussion and wellness policy violation saw Joe benched.
Good match that turned into two matches after a cheap DQ finish and a restart with No DQ, leading to a big daredevil you just knew had to happen to make this a resolute end to the feud. I hope…
During a segment with The Gonk and Mojo Rawley, R-Truth showed up with the 24/7 title which ended up with Rawley winning the title. Whatever happened to Riddick Moss anyway?
WWE Universal Title Match – Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman
You’ve heard the expression “Card Subject to Change” right? You’d think that for one of the biggest matches on the show, they’d be a big deal about it being changed right? Unless of course, your name is Vince McMahon.
When the pandemic hit, Roman Reigns, a cancer survivor, stayed away for the sake of his health and that of his newborn twins. Fair play to the man, but this didn’t stop WWE still promoting his match against Goldberg on TV even after Reigns’ absence was now publicly acknowledged by him. Triple H said in an interview that Roman would be written out “creatively” which got everyone guessing.
It turns out that this “creative” change was to quickly mention on the last Smackdown before Mania that Goldberg would defend against Strowman then move on to hype the other matches in greater detail. Oh Vince, you genius you! Match was terrible by the way but mercifully short.
Boneyard Match – Undertaker vs. AJ Styles
With Taker being more and more limited what he can do, the idea of a gimmick match was not only inevitable by sensible. Quite what they had in mind before the pandemic struck, maybe it is what we ended up with here, maybe it was something else. Stealing a page from the Broken Matt Hardy Final Deletion playbook, this wasn’t a match as such but a huge cinematic brawl set in a remote location where Taker, now a biker again, and Styles fought.
Featuring a hearse, motorbikes, guest appearances from Gallows and Anderson and some druids, this was a brawl through the ground of a deserted house that also doubled as a graveyard. In what was a spoiler, there was a grave with a tombstone for AJ Styles already there, so they telegraphed who would win.
It is hard to judge it as a “match” because it wasn’t one but as an outlandish spectacle and silly entertainment it was very well done and rather fun in its own way.
Big Steph opens night two by repeating what she said on night one but in different attire and still no mention of why the world is in chaos, so anyone watching this is 50 years time might wonder if Armageddon occurred in 2020…
The Gonk is also back and still annoying.
NXT Women’s Title Match – Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
When Vince changed his mind and gave Charlotte the win at the Royal Rumble, it threw many of his other plans into disarray as it made sense for the original choice of winner Shayna Baszler to haunt Becky Lynch with the guaranteed title shot. Since Charlotte has faced Becky and Bayley both numerous times before and neither would go down well once again for a Wrestlemania match, where does this leave Charlotte?
The answer was to have new NXT Women’s champ Rhea Ripley come out on RAW and invite Charlotte to face her instead, which she eventually accepted. Some felt this would be a step backwards for Charlotte but Vince felt having her working with the NXT women would elevate the title and the division instead, ignoring how many fans are tired of the preferential treatment Charlotte has received over the past five years.
But, tone deafness aside, this did us what was in my opinion the best match of the entire show, with both women going at it and then some. Considering how hot Ripley has got as the face of NXT, this was her chance to prove she belongs in that spot and she didn’t back away from this challenge and came across as a star – at least until the end. Never let it be said Vince doesn’t stand by his favourites, that’s all I’ll say about that.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
This match had zero build and is the first Wrestlemania match in at least 25 years that was on the card without any story behind it. Not much else to say except it was short.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Otis
On the other hand, this unlikely match had been brewing for some nine months or so. It started when Otis was lusting over a magazine photospread of Mandy Rose which appalled her, but that didn’t stop Otis. Then at Christmas Otis continued to pursue Mandy, giving her gifts which she accepted and seemed to warm to the big guy. Meanwhile, Dolph Ziggler was watching this and decided to interfere and stop any romance from happening so Mandy would date him instead.
The climax was at Valentine’s Day when Otis arrived late for his date with Mandy only to find Ziggler there instead. It turned out Sonya Deville sent Otis a text saying Mandy was running late so Dolph could take Otis’ place, resulting in Fire and Desire splitting up and this grudge match. The time it took me to type all that out was probably longer then the match itself, but it told a story and ended on the right note – if only there was a crowd to react to the moment that had been building up to for so long.
Last Man Standing Match – Edge vs. Randy Orton
Speaking of long, here is another match that sort of has a long build – around 12 years give or take. Edge was forced to retire in 2011 due to a neck injury but the progress made in surgery meant he was able to make a comeback at this year’s Royal Rumble. During the match, Edge eliminated his RKO partner Randy Orton, which was taken in jest as Orton admitted he would have done the same thing.
Orton then attacked Edge on RAW, hitting him with RKOs and Conchairtos, laying him out for good. His excuse was that Edge had become weak and it was his wife, Beth Phoenix’s fault, which earned Beth an RKO. Edge eventually returned and after moe back and forth attacks, this Last Man Standing match was booked.
And I think it may still be going. This was interminably dull and at almost 40 minutes with no crowd to react to the spots and the counts, it is very difficult to sit through. They went all through the Performance Centre which would have been fun if Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa hadn’t done the exact same thing on NXT the week before. And it included a tasteless riff on a real life tragedy but you know Vince. Unless you need to the sleep, avoid this one.
If you’re still awake, you’ll see Mojo Rawley being chased for the 24/7 by a group of nobodies, when his mate The Gonk jumps onto him from off a platform and wins the title! In case you are wondering if this breaks my “No spoiler” rule, it’s because I don’t consider anything to do with the 24/7 title “legit” as it is time wasting comedy solely to amuse Vince and the belt is a comedy prop, illustrated by the fact a football player is the holder.
WWE RAW Tag Title Match The Street Profits (c) vs. Angle Garza & Austin Theory
Originally it was supposed to be Andrade and Garza challenging the Profits (again with no real build up) but Andrade was injured so he was replaced by Austin Theory. An alum of WWE’s unofficial talent farm Evolve, Theory had only made a few appearances on NXT before getting this call up. Honestly, I couldn’t pick him out of a line up even if the others in it were all female, Asian, and over the age of 80, he’s that bland.
The match was short and all action, but the big news being the arrival of Mrs. Montez Ford at the end and if you don’t know who that is, she’ll let you know!
WWE SD Women’s Title Fatal Five Way Elimination Match – Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi
Bayley’s heel run is finally starting to pick up steam, the latest now being the conspiracy of her having face four other women including best friend Sasha Banks for her title in one match. It was originally a six-way match but Dana Brooke got ill and was removed. This was also Tamina’s first appearance back from injury and actually looked good in the powerhouse role, but you knew she wouldn’t last long under elimination rules.
Lacey Evans isn’t clicking as a face so not having a crowd turn on her might be to her advantage. The real story however is the Sasha and Bayley friendship, where a split and feud is inevitable but this time with the roles reversed, and this was just another step towards that. Functional but fine for what it was.
Firefly Fun House Match – The Fiend vs. John Cena
So, Cena showed up on Smackdown the night after Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia and announced he wouldn’t be at WM this year because he is a part timer and he thinks a young lion deserves the spot instead. The Fiend – who lost the Universal Title to Goldberg the night before and should be mad at him – shows up and points to the WM sign, implying a challenge which Cena – reneging of his speech from literally moments before – accepts!
There’s an expression the kidz use on the internet “I can’t even…” That about sums up my feelings on this segment. I can’t call it a match because it isn’t one – at least Taker vs. Styles was built around a fight and had some action in it. This was an overlong, unfunny collection of comedy skits where Cena effectively mocked his entire career (I guess to save me doing it) with Wyatt/The Fiend playing his sidekick.
Not a single wrestling move or anything was performed here, but I’m sure Vince was wetting himself watching it. It wasn’t as long as Edge vs. Orton but is just as painful to sit through.
WWE Title Match – Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
Drew won the Royal Rumble, and has thus far been the only man not to back down from Lesnar in the build up. As ever, this was a few F5s, German Suplexes, then off home again for Lesnar, leaving the biggest show of the year to end on a jubilant note for one person but without a receptive crowd, indifference for the rest of us.
Honestly, I know I shouldn’t be too cynical about this show because the entire WWE, the like world at large, is in a fix due to the COVID pandemic, and putting this show on to offer a distraction from the daily updates of deaths and political ineptitude deserves kudos, if only for the wrestlers themselves who put the real hard work in when they have their own health to worry about.
We can argue whether Vince was right to press on with the show and since other wrestling promotions have followed suit, it has almost become a moot point, but that is the wrestling business for you. Some wrestlers were reportedly “encouraged” into doing the show whilst others knew the bills won’t pay themselves, but at the end of the day we have a unique Wrestlemania precedent to talk about for years to come.
Aside from the empty stands, there were two big talking points. One was the two “cinematic” outings that allowed the two gimmick match ups to take place with the least amount of logistical nightmares on a live show. As mentioned earlier, Matt Hardy lead the way in Impact Wrestling and Vince has always wanted to copy it so now he had two opportunities to do so.
With one being well received (guess which one?) the door is now open for future big concept gimmick matches to become a reality without being limited to the confines of a wrestling ring or even an arena. But will it be a sparsely used attraction or be milked to death before we even get to Summerslam in August? Remember, this is Vince we’re talking about here.
The other issue was the splitting of the show across two nights. In the stadium setting this would be rather costly and there is no guarantee fans would (or could) attend both nights. In the case of New Japan, the first night at the Tokyo Dome on January 4th drew 40,000 fans, the second night pulled 30,000 fans, even with two stacked cards, their biggest names, and an IWGP Heavyweight Title vs. IC Title main event set up on the first night. Triple H said Wrestlemania 36 was more enjoyable in two parts but the logistics would be troublesome if they didn’t hold it in their own tiny practice venue.
Depending on how much longer the COVID virus will have its grip on the world, it will be interesting to see how Wrestlemania 37 will play out.
Best Match (Over both nights) – Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair
Blu-ray Disc 2/DVD Disc 3 Only:
Wrestlemania Kick-Off Match – Cesaro vs. Drew Gulak
Wrestlemania Kick-Off Match – Natalya vs. Liv Morgan
Monday Night RAW – March 2nd 2020
The Beast Beckons
Monday Night RAW – March 9th 2020
A Phenomenal Mistake
The Queen Has Spoken
Monday Night RAW – March 23rd 2020
Have A Seat
Monday Night RAW – March 30th 2020
Smackdown Live – April 3rd 2020
Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow
Monday Night RAW – Immediately Following Wrestlemania April 5th 2020
WWE Title Match – Drew McIntyre (c) vs. The Big Show
Rating – ****
Man In Black