Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Ramblemania Rewind 36 - WWE Wrestlemania 36 (2020)

Date: April 4-5, 2020
Venue: WWE Performance Center - Orlando, FL
Attendance: 0

So... 2020 was an interesting year. I lived it. You lived it. We all lived it. No need to go into the details. Because WWE sure as hell wouldn't and... yeah, let's not go there.

Anyway, due to prevailing circumstances, Wrestlemania 36 and all subsequent WWE programming for the foreseeable future would move from their originally scheduled locations to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, where the only audience greeting the talent would be watching from their homes on television. Empty arena matches were a gimmick once upon a time. Hell, promotions holding shows in closed studio settings with no fans was often a sign of troubling times. Never in a million years would I expect WWE to hold such shows in such a format, let alone a Wrestlemania... but here we are.

Even watching these years later, it's still such a surreal sight. And while the rest of the world was pretty much shut down, the wrestling business would continue onwards, whether it'd be WWE, AEW, or even Impact at times. There's always the discussion of whether they should or shouldn't have done so, but what's done is done... and for the most part, the business survived. And for what it's worth, this is the first Wrestlemania to be held over two nights; a tradition that would continue to this very day. Mind you, I still would've preferred a single, four-hour show, but given the option between a single TEN HOUR show, and two slightly smaller ones... I'll go with the two-night option.

So here we are... Wrestlemania 36 in an empty Performance Center... what could possibly go right?

As has been the case with some of these recent Ramblemania Rewinds, a number of these match thoughts are reposts from the original Ramblemanias written at the time, due to the thoughts holding up just fine and my really having not much else to add to the proceedings. These reposted bits will be in quotations for better distinguishment... that's not even a word, is it?

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

"Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross defeated Women's Tag-Team Champions Asuka and Kairi Sane where Bliss pinned Kairi to win the tag titles. It was a perfectly acceptable wrestling match that is marred by irritating shouting and an empty arena with no crowd reacting to it. Not sure how I feel about the new champs, which I believe are the first two-time champs of those titles... eh, largely indifferent."

"Elias beat Baron Corbin with a handful of tights... apparently, Elias took a huge fall on Smackdown and his presence would be in doubt. Fortunately, the Drifter showed up so that we can have this horribly boring match made even more so by the fact that there's no crowd to curtail this. They do scream a whole lot, which is making Iron Mike Sharpe proud in the heavens above... but yeah, this wasn't very good and didn't put a smile on my face. Even under normal circumstances, this would've sucked, so it's nothing out of the ordinary."

RAW Women's Champion Becky Lynch defeated Shayna Bazler to retain the title... so Shayna Bazler showed up on RAW one day and took a bite out of Becky Lynch... no, seriously, that's what happened. And so we got this match and then Becky overcame the odds to beat Shayna for the win. The match was... fine, I guess. It wasn't anything special. At the time, I figured this would've been a good time to pass the torch to Shayna, but on second viewing... I'm not quite upset that Becky retained. I don't know who would've benefited from beating Becky at this point... not that it would've mattered anyway.

Okay, so Becky Lynch has been RAW Women's Champion since Wrestlemania 35 - she'd lose the Smackdown title back to Baby Flair a month afterwards. Sometime during the summer - I don't recall when exactly, but I know it was shortly after the 2020 Money In The Bank show where they all ran around the old Titan Towers where... oh, crud. Let's not go there.

So anyway, Asuka won the Money In The Bank briefcase and the next night on RAW, it turns out Asuka didn't win a title shot, but rather the RAW Women's title that Becky had vacated due to being preggers. And so nobody beat Becky except for her reproductive capabilities... that sounded better in my head... and now my head hurts. Why am I still talking about this?

Intercontinental Champion Sami Zayn defeated Daniel Bryan Danielson via outside distraction due to a bunch of guys beating some other guys (Cesaro and someone else beating up Drew Gulak, I think?) to retain the title. The finish was a little weak and kinda stupid, but it was an otherwise perfectly acceptable wrestling match between two talented workers. No complaints, otherwise.

Smackdown Tag-Team Champion John Morrison defeated Jimmy Uso and Kofi Kingston in a Triple-Threat SINGLES ladder match to retain the title. This was supposed to be Morrison/Miz defending the titles against the Usos and some semblance of New Day, but they turned into a singles 3-way. No on-screen reasoning for this happening, but I'd imagine protocols and someone getting sick were the main reasonings behind the scenes. Anyway, the match was fine for what it was. Had some good spots... but it's awkward as hell watching a singles three-way with the tag-titles on the line. Makes me wonder why they even bothered with the match at all. Also, Morrison in this situation felt like a bit of a waste and honestly, I still feel they should've done more with him than be Miz's sidekick or whaever.

"Kevin Owens defeated Seth Rollins in a thing that happened. They had a false finish where Seth hit KO with the bell for the DQ, but KO demands a no-DQ match so that they can do the brawl in the empty seats and that leads us to KO splashing Rollins through the table via high jump from the stage... and then they go back to the ring so KO can KICK! WHAM! STUNNER! Rollins for the pin, which seems very anticlimatic and stuff. The match before the DQ was perfectly acceptable wrestling fare, but the stuff afterwards... didn't do much for me. Not even the big jump towards the end, which felt like a waste if that wasn't going to be the finish. Oh well." Sounds about right...

Braun Strowman defeated Universal Blue Belt Champion Goldberg to win the title in a match that involved Strowman kicking out of a couple Spears before giving Goldberg several power slams for the eventual pinfall. So Goldberg had defeated Bray Wyatt for the Blue Belt in one of the Saudi shows and this was originally booked to be Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg for the title before Roman bowed out due to reasons and we got Braun Strowman filling in as a last-minute replacement on Smackdown and winning the title the very next night... so yeah, I don't know. This was a thing that happened and... yeah... that's all I've got.

And in the main event of Night One, the Undertaker defeated AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match; essentially a mini-movie of sorts where Undertaker and AJ are fighting in a graveyard set for a good ten minutes or so before AJ get buried... for the reals. So, this turns out to be a Buried Alive match, but in a cemetery. Fair enough. There were druids involved, there were Anderson and Gallows, there was a bit of Metallica as Taker made his way to the Boneyard... this was, for all intents and purposes, produced as a little action flick and it was easily the highlight of the night. This would also turn out to be Undertaker's last ride, as he'd shortly "retire" later that year so he could do one-man shows and podcasts. Hell of a way to go out, I feel.

Out of all the cinematic wrestling matches that I've seen - or at least out of those to come out of the WWE camp - I think that the Boneyard match stands above all the rest. It told a fairly basic story, it has some good action bits, it had its share of goofy bits that didn't detract from the rest of the short - a key point, I should mention - and as a whole, it was a nice showcase and sales pitch for the cinematic wrestling fare that would become a bit of a staple for the foreseeable future, where everything would go downhill from there. Probably a better avenue to have went than just having a regular wrestling match... which I don't think would've been great, but on the flip side, I feel that maybe AJ could have salvaged things a bit.

In any event, Night One was a thing that happened. A couple good bits, a couple bad bits, and a fairly entertaining note to end the night on.

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

"Charlotte Flair defeated NXT Women's Champion Rhea Ripley to win the title because of course she did. Why are you surprised?" But don't feel bad for Rhea; she'd get her win back eventually. Anyway, I was a lot more down on this match the first time around; mostly because of the end result, but honesty, this was a fairly great match. A bit slow at times, but hard-hitting for the most part and tremendous fun otherwise. I'll disagree on who should've won, but the match itself was good stuff.

"Aleister Black defeated Bobby Lashley because Lana gave Lashley bad advice." Okie-dookie, I guess. Anyway, the match wasn't anything special; nice filler for a TV show or something. I didn't care much the first time around and the second time around... eh, can't say much has changed in that regard. Oh well, at least they got paid.

"Otis defeated Dolph Ziggler via an assist from Mandy Rose who punched Dolph in the balls, resulting in Otis and Mandy getting together after weeks of miscommunication and deceit and stuff." And then Otis would lose the girl, who'd end up on NXT as their women's champion before eventually losing the title and shortly thereafter, was well wished on her future endeavors, which ended up being an OnlyFans page that's making her lots and lots of money... well, good for Mandy. As for the match itself... yeah, had this happened in front of a crowd, I'd imagine the big payoff would've been a big hit, but in an empty studio setting, it just sort of rings hollow. Much like this show as a whole.

Edge - fresh off coming out of retirement earlier in the year - defeated Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match that took place all over the empty Performance Center. I didn't give this match enough credit for making the most of their new situation and using the Performance Center as the canvas for their Last Man Standing match. And let's give further props - both guys looked good and were more than capable of pulling off an entertaining Last Man Standing match... and then they kept going... and then they kept going... and then they kept going... and then it kept going... and it kept going... and going... and going... and HOLY BALLS, WHEN WILL THIS END?!

The longer the match went, the more restless I got... it seemed like they told you everything they need to tell in roughly fifteen minutes and just kept going. This match was suffering from the same issue that plagued Wrestlemania 35; they went long for the sake of going long and didn't have enough story to make it worthwhile, so they just stretched what little story they had last over half an hour and it just felt like a sloth. And on top of that, there's no crowd to at least fill the void. Whatever these guys were going for, it clearly didn't work. There are times when a longer match works. This is not one of those times.

RAW Tag-Team Champions Street Profits defeated Angel Garza/Austin Theory in a tag-team match to retain the titles. Nothing special, really.

"Smackdown Women's Champion Bayley defeated Lacey Evans, Sasha Banks, Glow Girl, and Tamina in a five-way elimination match to retain the title... in a thing that happened. This was another one that went too long and I just phased out. This is all pre-taped, by the way."

And then we have the "other" cinematic match.

The Firefly Funhouse match between John Cena and "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt.

This was dreadful.

So it's John Cena against Bray Wyatt, where Bray uses magic to change costumes and such. So one minute, we're reliving John Cena's debut (complete with trunks and hair). The next minute, it's a Saturday Night's Main Event promo where both guys are cutting promos in the old Blue Bar Cage. Then it's thuganomics John Cena. Then it's nWo John Cena. ANd then it's...

I'm sorry, but this was shit. There's being creative, there's outside-the-boxing thing, and then there's artsy-fartsy throw shit on the wall and see what sticks. This Firefly Funhouse thing was that artsy-fartsy throw shit at the wall and see what sticks... and whatever slips onto the ground was what was used to make this fucking thing. And that's what hurts my head thinking about this shit, because I thought the Firefly Funhouse thing was a neat change of direction for Bray when it started and it could lead to some fun stuff here and there. Hell, I didn't even mind the Fiend when he first popped up; if nothing else, the mask looked cool - credit to Tom Savini who made this wonderful thing. I wasn't down on this version of Bray Wyatt until he was booked in a program with Seth and everything went to shit afterwards.

I've maintained - and still maintain - that Bray was a really creative guy and he just needed that outlet that could properly channel that creativity to produce something truly memorable and special. While people enjoyed this stuff and thought it was great, I never got that feeling. They bungled this Fiend from the get-go and when it came to doing the cinematic stuff... like I said, this was tossing shit to the wall and scooping up what DIDN'T stick to make up everything that we got out of it. I can watch the Boneyard match over and over and over again and it still works, because it's a fucking great piece of sketch. The Firefly Funhouse match, on the other hand, was the absolute drizzling shits. And sadly, it wouldn't be the only thing that sucked involving the late Bray Wyatt.

Fortunately, I'm only touching the Wrestlemanias, so I won't have to rag on the other cinematic cesspool that WWE churned out during this time.

Drew McIntyre defeated WWE World Champion Brock Lesnar in the stock Brock Lesnar match featuring finisher kickouts, suplexes galore, and just the usual lazy style of match to win the title and celebrate his big moment in front of no fans... which hurts the mood a bit... and then of course, Drew's first challenger would be none other than FUCKING BIG SHOW right after... but that much would air on RAW the next night, so yeah.. whatever. Drew would hold on to the title for a good chunk of time before losing it to... wait, this can't be right?

He dropped the title to THE MIZ?!


Well... no wonder why this guy's so upset these days.

Yeah... so that was Wrestlemania 36, a two night affair with each night being a hodgepodge of pre-taped empty arena matches headlined with a cinematic affair of sorts. I like that they stuck with the two-night format because it works better than everything on a single sitting, but in rewatching 36, I've realized that this sort of followed (or started, if you preferred) the format of Night One being the better card than Night Two. In this case, Night One was just the better show overall and had the better cinematic match, where as Night Two had the great Charlotte/Rhea opener and then everything fell off a cliff afterwards... the good news, though, is that Wrestlemania 36 had the worst Night 2 of the bunch, which means things can only get better from here.

Probably should, because Wrestlemania 37 would have crowds again... but that's another story.

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