Previously on the Best and Worst of WrestleMania: WrestleMania ran until one in the morning, proving that WrestleMania was too big for just one night. This year, for the first time, WrestleMania is Too Big For Just One Night®!
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE WrestleMania 36 (1 of 2) for April 4, 2020.
First Things First, Rest In Peace AJ Styles
For real, you the only Flat Earther that I ever knew.
“You … you made me BRAYKE MY FANGER!!!!!”
So, how do you put the Boneyard Match into words? I feel like Jodie Foster trying to talk to her dead father on an alien beach.
I think it’d be doing the match a disservice to pretend like it was innovative or original. Vampiro was doing melodramatic graveyard matches 20 years ago with the same burials and shovel shots and camera effects. It’s got a little of Matt Hardy’s Broken Universe in the presentation, a lot of Lucha Underground, and the only difference between it and something like House of Horrors is that people liked it. I’d also be doing the match a disservice to say it wasn’t delightfully corny, dumb as bricks in all the right ways, and maybe the exact thing wrestling fans needed to turn off their brains and stop thinking about the terrifying world in which we live for a few minutes.
I’ve been trying to figure out the differences between this and House of Horrors, and the most reasonable thing I can surmise is that they realized it was like a scene from the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie, didn’t take it seriously, and ratcheted up the ridiculousness. While House of Horrors had, say, an unmanned tractor rolling backwards while everyone in WWE creative went oh my god wow this is so scary you guys you should be really scared for randy orton right now, the Boneyard Match was like, Undertaker is gonna drive away on a motorcycle so let’s play Metallica and have fire shoot up in the background and make lasers form an Undertaker symbol on the front of a deadly barn. It gets what it’s supposed to be, and that’s why it works.
That’s just part of it, you know? There’s so much more going on. For one, it’s refreshing to see The Undertaker filmed like this so he can still look like The Undertaker, and not like a bumbling old man willing to put his life and the lives of others on the line in a dangerously shitty match for another Saudi bag. Undertaker was always more of a gothic comic book character than a professional wrestling one, and putting him in hilarious cinematics that play on 30 years of popular history without exposing his growing weaknesses and asking him carry a live, marquee, real-life wrestling match deep into his 50s when you shouldn’t even be asking or expecting his legendary ass to carry his own groceries. Taker looks alive again, so to speak, and could do so much more for WWE going forward as the aging action hero in pre-tapes who puts up his dukes and quips macho one-liners before battling an army of cemetery druids.
Then there’s what actually happens in the match, which sounds a little funnier every time you type it out. There’s the Cinemax music, which I think is at its best when The O.C.’s summoning druids from beyond the grave or whatever while a lonely electric guitar wails in the background. There’s the Undertaker avoiding being buried by teleporting out of his grave and showing up behind AJ with back-lighting like he just stepped out of a Hellraiser sequel. There’s the hillbilly bum-fights dialogue between the two, Undertaker breathing like a pug, dramatic middle fingers, and poor AJ Styles out here literally dying in bootcut Wranglers. It’s a masterpiece of Vince McMahon’s “we make movies” vision, for better or worse, and the beautiful, truly absurd centerpiece to history’s strangest WrestleMania.
It also makes me really excited to see what the Firefly Funhouse match is going to look like. “Matches” like this shouldn’t ever replace professional wrestling, because wrestling is a weirdly archaic and wonderful expression of art using theater in the round to tell stories of base humanity and exaggerated experience to the millions of people on its wavelength, but bad action movie cutscenes are pretty great too. Part of me hopes that the Styles character actually died here and will never be seen again, and that Monday’s Raw opens with his Zoom funeral.
Now let’s do Undertaker vs. Sting like this before they’re both a hundred, what do you say?
Worst: When Rob Gronkowski And Mojo Rawley Are Your Entire Crowd
The rest of the show was decidedly not held in the Boneyard, but it had its highs and lows.
Like the empty arena shows I’ve written up for Raw, Smackdown, NXT, and AEW Dynamite, I need to start the non-Bonies portion of the program with a disclaimer. I’ll put it in bold so you’ll see it if you’re skimming for some reason. The world is fucked right now and it’s wildly unfair to compare a show WWE would do out of pandemic and quarantine with one they’re doing inside of it. There are still criticisms to make and improvements to suggest, but nothing I’m writing here is intended to condescend on the men and women who are continuing to try to work, entertain us, and put their bodies on the line when they absolutely do not have to be. I don’t think WWE should still be doing shows when everything else is shut down for a myriad of reasons, but I’m also happy they are, because I like wrestling and I don’t ever want it to stop. It’s “hypocritical,” I guess, but we contain multitudes, or whatever.
I’ve got to say, though, if you predicted that WrestleMania would run in the back of the Performance Center with no fans but Mojo Rawley and Rob Gronkowski in attendance, congratulations on bringing back a Sports-Entertainment Almanac from 30 years in the future. I hope you also bet someone that the Street Profits would defend the Raw Tag Team Championship against Austin Theory from EVOLVE and NXT Breakout Tournament semifinals loser Angel Garza. I was honestly worried that given the circumstances they’d pull some dumb shit with Gronk and have him leave WrestleMania as the Universal Champion or something, but they keep his Zubaz flavor of enthusiasm to a minimum and only really have him interact with the talent in a bad 24/7 Championship bit.
Truth, my dude, you’re in quarantine. You had to drive to Riddick Moss’ neighborhood and find him jogging down his street to win the championship. If you’re worried about losing it, stay in your damn home. Why are you not only going to the locked down, no fans, essential personnel only WrestleMania and then going up onto the little Juliette balcony to ask your two most threatening predators — a sports celebrity and his best friend, a former 24/7 Champion — to help keep you safe? It’s like lowering yourself into the ocean in an open cage to avoid being eaten by sharks.
Gronk’s definitely winning that championship tomorrow and kayfabe freeing himself from his association with Mojo, yeah? And then Truth’s probably jogging up in an Eagles helmet and school-boying him to win it back. I know times are tough, but I still think they should’ve written the 24/7 Championship out of existence at WrestleMania with a two-day R-Truth vs. Drake Maverick anywhere and everywhere Iron Man Match.
Best: Bruderschaft Des Kreuzes Remains Dominant On The Pre-Show
There wasn’t much to the four minutes of Cesaro vs. Drew Gulak we got on the kickoff show, but it WAS the formal WWE debut of one of Cesaro’s greatest moves, the UFO, aka “Unidentified Flying Opponent”:
Here he is hitting it on Green Ant in CHIKARA back in the day and again on Charlie Haas in Ring of Honor. It doesn’t make a lot of physical sense, but it rules. I’m worried about Cesaro getting over another move like this, though, because he got the Giant Swing over only to have to stop doing it because it was too over. Cesaro’s forever in that position of wanting to show people the cool things he can do, and knowing as soon as he does, they’ll swoop in like, “no, European uppercuts only.”
Worst: Poor Kairi Sane
I don’t think anything on the show made me as sad as Pirate Princess Kairi Sane opening the pirate-themed edition of WrestleMania that was supposed to happen in a stadium full of fans with a pirate ship, but now has no fans and no pirate ship. The Kabuki Warriors’ entrance gear looked amazing, though, and in a better timeline this was the coolest and best night of Kairi Sane’s life.
Anyway, the show opens with the Women’s Tag Team Championship match between the Bukies and Bliss Cross Applesauce, which most of us assumed was WWE’s way of getting the titles back on Alexa Bliss so they’d have a reason to pay attention and remember the titles exist. I don’t know why they completely lost interest with the belts on Boss-n-Hug, the IIconics, or the goddamn Kabuki Warriors, but they did. They like Bliss, though, so why not? Plus, it technically gives Nikki Cross a “WrestleMania moment,” even if it’s at the extremely weird and concerning WrestleMania.
The match itself wasn’t bad, but they were in that death slot of opening the show while the fans at home adjusted to the reality of it. My Twitter timeline didn’t really start lightening up or getting positive until the ladder match five matches in. It also went a little long at 15 minutes, and there were a ton of visible edits made throughout that for me, at least, threw off the rhythm and took me out of it. Ah well. Maybe WWE will give Tampa a “make-up” WrestleMania in 2022 or something and we’ll get that perfectly synergistic pirate moment after all. I had that clip of the guy from the end of The Goonies seeing One-Eyed Willie’s ship and saying “holy Mary mother’a God!” ready to go and everything.
King Corbin Versus Elias Happened
It sure did. The best compliment I can give it is that it didn’t completely make me want to smash myself in the face with a scepter and fall off a balcony. Corbin gets caught cheating and then loses to Elias cheating to presumably keep the feud going, because come on, you have to save the big blow-off to the King Corbin versus Elias rivalry for when fans are there.
On the bright side, this is the best crowd reaction a King Corbin match has ever gotten.
Best/Worst: Shayna No-Time
It’s the next day and I’m still not totally sure what to make of Becky Lynch versus Shayna Baszler. I didn’t hate what they were doing in the ring, but it’s just kind of there and over before it can even get going. It’s 8 1/2 minutes long, which makes it not only half the length of Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross versus the Kabuki Warriors, but shorter than Corbin vs. Elias. And this is supposed to be one of your big marquee matches! The only Women’s Championship match for a main roster championship without Tamina and Lacey Evans involved.
You’ve got to think that Baszler losing to the Kairi Special here runs her “dominance” gimmick’s momentum into a brick wall and leaves her kind of dead in the water on Raw. The build with Lynch here wasn’t very good and was marred by comical vampirism from the beginning, and the matches and promos Shayna’s had on Raw have been pretty cringe. It’s a crummy reality, especially for a Shayna Baszler fanboy and apologist like me. She’s legit one of my favorite wrestlers, and since showing up on Raw she’s felt more like Jessamyn Duke than Shayna Baszler. The longer you think about it, even that dominant performance at the Elimination Chamber feels less like earned pro wrestling “domination” and more like somebody acting out the idea of domination for the sake of a story. Sorta like how they have Tamina be a joke and vanish for years but show up two weeks before WrestleMania with everyone acting all scared of her.
Becky’s run continues, bless its heart, and unless Ronda Rousey’s actually coming back sometime this year, I think she’s out of viable challengers. What are they going to do, run her against a returning Nia Jax again? Call up Raquel Gonzalez? Bring back WWE Legend Alicia Fox? Shayna losing and being humbled enough to fall in line as Rousey’s second in command as the Four Horsewomen of MMA wage war on professional wrestling and Lynch having to “get the band back together” and make the NXT Horsewomen get along again would be a hell of a way to spend the year, but right now putting that all together feels like trying to unlock a cryptex in The Da Vinci Code. At least Becky still kind of got to have a cool WrestleMania entrance!
Worst: WrestleMania Presents Friday Night Smackdown
When I watch Sami Zayn versus Daniel Bryan in an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania, I want Sami Zayn versus Daniel Bryan in an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania. Almost any version of that would be great. Almost.
Unfortunately what we got was the most Friday Night Smackdown match on the card, with Zayn (who has spent years being a helpless loser, only won the Intercontinental Championship in a 3-on-1 handicap match, hasn’t defended it, and has supervised a solid month of non-stop losses to Daniel Bryan) “getting his comeuppance” for a few entertaining minutes and then launching straight into a TV-ass distraction finish. At WRESTLEMANIA. Drew Gulak gets beaten up by Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura, which causes Bryan to dive into them for the save, which removes his focus long enough for Sami to hit a fucking big boot counter to a Jumping Nothing and win the match. They said it was a “Helluva Kick,” but it was a Hulk Hogan big boot. He just stuck his leg up. Daniel Bryan dominated for 10 minutes and lost to a raised foot. Bruh. Flat, pointless, regressive, and a massive waste of two of the best performers in your company. Five of them, technically.
Thankfully it’s around this time that the mostly trash first hour and a half of WrestleMania gets saved by three guys with a bunch of ladders and a death wish.
Best: John Morrison, Jimmy Uso, And Kofi Kingston Give WrestleMania A Blood Sacrifice
It is sincerely a massive understatement to say that John Morrison, Jimmy Uso, and Kofi Kingston deserve the biggest WrestleMania bonuses this year. They walked into an almost unwinnable scenario — a triple threat tag team ladder match turned into a 1-on-1-on-1 triple threat due to unexpected illness during a pandemic, so now they’d have to plot and organize an entertaining ladder match without three additional guys to set up the spots and no fan reactions to justify them putting their careers on the line by jumping into and falling off shit — and dammit, they made it work.
This was the first time all night that WrestleMania felt like WrestleMania. I hate that that coincides with dudes risking injury for the phantom of a crowd response, not to mention Big E being unceremoniously wiped from the WrestleMania card, but they held nothing back and did everything they could to make up the difference. Morrison’s parkour nonsense was the MVP here with the rope walks and the twisting sentons off the ring post, but Jimmy and Kofi were right there with him. Uce’s “Eat that Kofi! Face flat like a pancake boyyyyy” might’ve been the banter of the night.
The finish was a little corny, but they get points for creativity and effort. In case you missed it, all three guys get to the top of ladders at the same time and pull down not just the Smackdown Tag Team Championship belts, but the gold hook thing that held them up. They should’ve strapped the belts to that ceiling fan, but that’s beside the point. Kofi and Uce decide to team up to remove Morrison from the equation, but when he falls, he unconsciously takes the belts with him. He also took a nasty blind fall backwards onto a ladder bridge, because JoMo went full bonkers fearless sometime around the end of Lucha Underground season one. It’s cuter than it is believable or effective as a finish, I think, but like I said, at least they tried something different. Huge +1 to these three.
Mostly Best: Kevin Owens Has Become The Thing He Hates The Most
Quick, try to pick out the match Paul Heyman agented.
This one tricked us into thinking it was about to be a total disasters. Owens and Rollins fight to the outside and Rollins uses the ring bell to get himself disqualified. I think everyone simultaneously was like OH MY GOD NO YOU DIDN’T, and then Owens gets on the mic and talks Rollins back to the ring to restart it as no disqualification, anything goes. It’s fun to be worked when the result is something that improves the show! So the match restarts and builds to the big finish: Kevin Owens climbing up on top of the comically oversized WrestleMania signage that threatened to swallow us all dropping ass from it, putting Rollins through a table. It’s one of those visuals you’re going to see in highlight reels forever.
I think the start and stop worked, but also that it took a little away from the match, as they were doing enough good work and telling a good enough story that it wasn’t necessary. I guess the only way to get Owens out there and up onto the sign would be to bump the ref or have the referee just pretend to forget how to count or something, but on a show with Boneyard Matches and Firefly Funhouse Matches and impromptu triple threat ladder matches between singles guys for tag titles, they probably could’ve just said “this match is no count-outs and no disqualifications” during the introductions. I don’t think it worked for the story to have Rollins try to take a disqualification loss anyway, not only to Kevin Owens, but on WrestleMania, which he clearly thinks is super important. I dunno.
Braun Strowman is now your Universal Champion after two minutes of heart-stopping action against Bill Goldberg in a match with no buid or story that was announced yesterday in passing during a mid-show video package.
Strowman finally “wins the big one” at the public and creative low-point of his character’s existance, defeating a 53-year old part-timer who squashed The Fiend to sell more tickets to a WrestleMania that ended up with an attendance of zero. That managed to not only negate the point of the title change, but sacrifice six months of storytelling involving top stars like Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan to do so. The Fiend no-sold and obliterated Rollins and Bryan only to get squashed by Goldberg, who was then squashed by Braun Strowman, who we most recently saw losing a 3-on-1 handicap match. To Sami Zayn, who just beat Daniel Bryan. It’s like an ouroboros of losing. It’d be frustrating if it wasn’t so funny.
Also, one of your advertised WrestleMania main events was four shoulder tackles and four body slams. Honestly, if I never see Goldberg again, it’ll be too soon. Regardless of how you feel about him as a character and performer, he only shows up in WWE these days to take opportunities from and make things shittier for the people who actually work there.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
5 guys yelling at each other in a confined space while two guys wearing zubaz watch from a balcony? That’s Florida.
AddMayne and JerichoThat sharing similar ideas
There needs to be an after credits scene of Evil Uno and Stu digging up AJ while Brodie Lee looks on
There needs to be an epilogue where Dario Cueto shows up and digs him out with the help of some mysterious people for nefarious purposes
The Real Birdman
They should’ve gone full Nitro, had Shayna get a monster truck, then battled Becky in her semi truck on the rooftop
Take it easy on Corbin everyone. Waitstaff has been hit hardest in this Pandemic.
(Samoa Joe watching at home): Wendy is miiiiiinnnne!!!!!
The New Barry Horowitz
“We paid millions for an expensive pirate-themed promo, and I’ll be damned if we are not gonna use it!”
This is the kind of over the top craziness we came to wrestling for, and it only took an apocalypse for us to have it again.
Corbin vs. Elias: a match that would have been wrestled in silence even if there WAS a crowd
Big Baby Yeezus
Vanguard 1 wanders into the fight like
And thus concludes Grandsons of Anarchy
COVID-19 to the video package for next year’s WrestleMania:
That’s it for night one of the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 36. I heard it’s too big for just one night, like Alex Wright, so we’re going to do it again on Sunday night. Make sure you’re here for our night two open thread, and hey, if you’d like to help us stay employed during a pandemic full of empty arena wrestling shows, drop a comment down below and share the column. Seriously, no time we ask for this is ever going to more important than right now.
See you on Sunday for what’s left:
1. WWE Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
2. NXT Women’s Championship Match: Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
3. Raw Tag Team Championship Match: Street Profits (c) vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza
4. Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
5. Last Man Standing Match: Edge vs. Randy Orton
6. Firefly Funhouse Match: Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena
7. Dolph Ziggler vs. Otis
8. Smackdown Women’s Championship Match: Bayley (c) vs. Naomi vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina vs. Lacey Evans
9. Kickoff Show Match: Natalya vs. Liv Morgan
Can Firefly Funhouse top the Boneyard? Fingers crossed.