WWE WrestleMania XXXVI: Night 1





WWE WrestleMania XXXVI: Night 1

By Big Red Machine
From April 04, 2020

WWE WrestleMania XXXVI: Night 1
STEPH GIVES AN OBNOXIOUS SPEECH - Just show me the damn wrestling already.

WWE WOMEN’S TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Kabuki Warriors(c) vs. Alexa Bliss! & Nikki Cross - 6.5/10


Michael Cole and JBL are on commentary. Oh G-d. After Cross did a dive, Cole referred to her as either “naughty Nikki” or “nutty Nikki.” Both of those should be firing offenses.

Cross was the babyface in peril. That’s really all there is to say other than “ALEXA WON THE TITLES! HOORAY!” This was decent.

KAYLA BRAXTON INTERVIEWS SAMI ZAYN & PALS - Good.

BARON CORBIN vs. “THE DRIFTER” ELIAS SAMPSON - 4/10


Of course Corbin had to talk first because Vince hates us all. At least it wasn’t too long, and I do think the whole “declare me the winner via forfeit” bit did add to the match a little bit here (though I can’t quite put my finger on why). The Drifter came out so there would be no forfeit, making him the heel in my book, because it’s not his fault that we have to see this match. He hit Corbin with a guitar before the bell. He looks to be in pretty good shape for a man who fell “fifteen feet to the concrete floor” just eight days ago. That fall has only resulted in one injured shoulder.

This was long and relatively boring. The Drifter’s injured shoulder got worked over. Someone decided that in this nine-minute match we needed to have the babyface’s finisher get kicked out of. The heel then took over and only got pinned because he distracted himself by arguing with the referee and was rolled up because his attention was elsewhere. This is the sort of finish you only do to set-up a rematch, but if your plan is to continue the feud after Mania and you’re going a “thrown off the balcony onto the concrete floor below” angle just eight days before Mania, it’s better to just not do the Mania match at all and have Elias come back a month after Mania. It both saves time on the Mania card and makes GETTING THROWN OFF OF A BALCONY TO THE CONCRETE FLOOR FIFTEEN FEET BELOW into an angle that actually feels significant because there was a significant amount of time missed.

Wow… it’s so quite in the PC that during the matches you can hear that their smoke detector needs to be replaced. Or that could just be in my house. Is anyone else hearing that?

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Becky Lynch(c) vs. Shayna Baszler - 5/10


This only went eight and a half minutes. Quite frankly, it was a disappointment of epic proportions. Becky withstood some attacks, then won by reversing the Kirafuta Clutch into a pin (think Bret vs. Austin at Survivor Series 1996 but without using the ropes).

Mojo and Gronk look like the biggest f*cking dorks in human history, up there on their little platform, dancing in their outfits straight out of the 1970s.

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Sami Zayn(c) (w/the Artists Collective) vs. Daniel Bryan (w/Drew Gulak) - 6/10


Michael Cole talks about Daniel Bryan’s title win at WrestleMania XXX by calling it (paraphrasing) “one of the greatest moments in WWE history: The Miracle on Bourbon Street.” This might be the first time I’ve heard that name used, and if I have heard it before, it certainly wasn’t being used in 2014, na d has probably only been used by WWE communications employees. But of course we’ve got to give this thing a catchy name, because G-d forbid we just talk about “when Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XXX.” If we did, people might not think it’s important or cool even though it was a beloved babyface winning the world title in the main event f WrestleMania.

We start off with Zayn stalling his ass off like he’s Cody Rhodes in an ROH match. Unlike Cody, though, (and Jay White and Tetsuya Naito, while we’re at it), these guys weren’t stalling for heat. They were telling an actual story with the stalling. First Sami would go to the outside and Bryan wouldn’t follow. Then Bryan would follow, but would always get cut off by one of Sami’s pals stepping in front of him. Then they had Bryan almost get his hands on Sami because Sami tripped while trying to get out of the ring, but Cesaro and Nakamura together stepped in front of Bryan… but then Bryan’s buddy Gulak got involved by coming off the apron with a dive and taking Cesaro and Nakamura out. Then, knowing there was now no one to get in his way, Bryan lulled Sami into a false sense of security by telling Sami to just take the count-out loss, getting Sami to start walking to the back with his back turned to Bryan, at which point Bryan charged up the ramp and finally caught Sami and dragged him back into the ring.
Bryan was now able to get his hands on Sami and beat him up for a while as Sami begged for mercy like the excellent weasel he is. Then Cesaro and Nakamura came back and took out Gulak on the outside so Bryan dove onto them to take them out. Bryan then came off the top turnbuckle… and landed right in a Helluva Kick for the finish. This match went less than ten minutes. They told their story effectively, but once again, this was a huge disappointment from a match I was really looking forward to.

LADDER MATCH FOR THE WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
John Morrison(c) vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso - 7.25/10


This is a singles match for the tag titles for no explained reason. They couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a kayfabe explanation. The real reason, of course, is that someone was showing symptoms of you know what, but of course WWE would never acknowledge that in any way, as that would open them up to criticism that maybe still doing shows isn’t a good idea, and we can’t have that, no sir.

I was hoping that the lack of a crowd would lead to something less stunt-show focused than usual, but we just got a tone-down version of the usual ladder match. Not that this lacked for highspots or anything; it was just that they weren’t landing back-first on ladders so much, which I was more than fine with.

What I was absolutely not fine with, however, was the finisher. The big golden triangle belt-holding thing got unhooked and everyone had a hand on it on top of some ladders. Jimmy and Kofi managed to knock Morrison off the top of the of the ladders, but he came down holding the belts, so he got the win even though it feels like a fluke. Gimmick matches are supposed to RESOLVE issues, not give us screwy finishes! At least they actually gave this match an appropriate amount of time.

KEVIN OWENS vs. SETH ROLLINS - 6.5/10


They were having what appeared to be on its way to being a pretty great match… until Rollins hit Owens in the face with the ring bell for the cheap DQ. Then Owens got on the mic and cut a promo goading Seth into a no DQs match. Dude… if you want to book a gimmick match, just book the f*cking gimmick match in the first place! Don’t waste time on a PPV doing an angle to set it up. That’s what the MONTHS of TV that you spent building to this match are for!

Anyway, Seth accepts and we get a…

NO DISQUALFICATIONS MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins - 4.5/10


They brawled and did weapons stuff. It all built up to Owens doing a big dive off of the WrestleMania logo hanging by the stage onto Rollins, through a commentary table. Owens asked “how’s this for a WrestleMania moment” before diving, so you can be sure that the announcers will refer to this as a “WrestleMania Moment™” from now until the end of time, so be prepared to be sick of hearing about this moment in a few months.

R-TRUTH SHOWED UP ON MOJO & GRONK’S PLATFORM AND GOT PINNED BY MOJO - I think he pulled Gronk off of Truth or something like that. One I saw the 24/7 Title, I started to zone out.

PAUL HEYMAN SCARES THE SH*T OUT OF CHARLY CARUSO, THEN CUTS A PROMO ON DREW MCINTYRE - Yeah… because if the previous fourteen promos Paul has cut to hype this match up over the past two months haven’t gotten you excited for this match yet, one more promo will definitely do the trick.

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Goldberg(c) vs. Braun Strowman - DUD!


This was finisher-spam to the point of parody. Almost every single move in this match was a finisher (and I do mean “almost every single move” literally, as the only move I can remember that wasn’t was a kick to the stomach). They just felt like regular moves.

That being said, I totally marked out when Goldberg hit three straight spears and then went for the pin, because I booked that finish almost a decade ago in our EWA E-Fed (it’s the Joel Carter vs. Tien Trippoquer match from show 14. And, yes, I do fully intend to fulfill my promise to reveal my full, long-ranging plans for the EWA booking in time for TWR’s big 10th anniversary celebration this December.
Anyway, as much as I hated this, at least they didn’t have Braun fail to win the title yet again.

BONEYARD MATCH:
AJ Styles vs. The Undertaker - DUD!


We start off with someone pulling up into a cemetery in a hearse. Taker’s music is playing… somehow. We’ll say it’s coming from the speaker of the car. The moment only two druids popped out, you knew they were actually going to be Gallows & Anderson, and, yup, it’s AJ in the casket in the back. Once they opened the casket the car speaker (controlled by remote control, maybe? Does that technology exist yet?) switched to AJ’s theme music. What, exactly, did they hope to gain from going through with this ruse?

Also, can someone please tell us what the damn rules are?

American Badass Undertaker then showed up on a motorcycle. I don’t like Taker switching between… personas, I guess?... without some sort of precipitating mystical event. Him switching abck and forth should not feel so mundane.

They exchange some meh trash-talk. AJ picks up a brick from the ground, but Taker punches him before he can throw it. Taker beats AJ up for a bit and calls him “Allen,” because shoot names definitely make this fight involving a magical zombie wizard feel real.

Taker smashes AJ into the limo, then grabs a piece of metal off the ground and swings it at AJ’s head. He misses, and breaks the window. Even with this pipe, he is still bleeding from the cut. Thankfully not Goldberg-level bleeding, though.

They fought some more. There was mood music playing. There was a lot of Taker beating AJ up and asking “you want some more? Huh?” and the like.

AJ cut Taker off with a kick to the nards, then tried to toss him into a grave that AJ had dug… earlier in the day, I guess? Taker eventually knocked AJ into it instead. Sooo… is it over? Does that mean Taker won? WHAT ARE THE RULES?!

Gallows & Anderson then showed up and got Taker’s attention. They were standing in front of some sort of big wooden shack, and on their cue, a bunch of the boarded-over doors were knocked down and a bunch of guys dressed in druid robes came out and surrounded The Undertaker. If this isn’t all of Bullet Club (and I’m including the Bucks and Omega in that… not Balor because he got kicked out, and not Cody because f*ck Cody and his involvement in Bullet Club), I don’t care.

Despite taking the tactical step of surrounding him on all sides, the druids decide to run at Taker one at a time, like really bad AI in a video game. Once they all get taken down (with about one punch each, too), Gallows & Anderson get smart enough to attack Taker at the same time. They tried to hit him with what was supposedly a shovel but actually just looked like a stick with no shoveling apparatus, but Taker got it away from them and beat them up with it until AJ came out of nowhere and smashed something big and heavy over Taker’s head/back of the neck.

More stuff happened. They ran through a fence. AJ monologues about how he’s going to do the world a favor by burying Taker, then breaks a shovel over his back (a real one this time, not just a handle) and knocks him into the grave again. AJ then threw some dirt onto Taker and went to go dump the big tractor-thingy full of dirt on him. Is that how you win this match?

Taker magically teleported onto the vehicle behind AJ. Taker knocked AJ off the tractor, then stalked him for a bit. AJ climbed up a ladder onto the roof of the aforementioned shack in an attempt to escape. It turns out that the shack is a lot bigger than I thought. Taker magically summoned fire to both scare AJ and cover his own teleportation, so he was on the roof now, too. Also, apparently Gallows & Anderson are up there, because they ran in and attacked Taker, only to get their butts kicked as well. One of them got tossed off the roof and the other got Tombstoned onto it. AJ punched Taker but Taker no-sold it, then chokeslammed AJ off the roof.

Taker came down to taunt AJ some more. He carried him over the grave and looked like he was going to chokeslam AJ in, but then he didn’t because he said that AJ gave him a good fight. Taker turned to leave, but then turned back and booted AJ into the grave anyway. Come on, guys! At least have AJ try to attack him from behind or something to justify Taker changing his mind! Taker then buried AJ in the grave and his music started to play. So… is it over?

Taker then moved the weeds over the tombstone of the grave to reveal AJ’s name and not Taker’s… which I guess he changed with magic? We then panned down to AJ’s lifeless hand poking out of the dirt. Then Taker got on his bike and left, and his symbol magically appeared on the shack.
Yeah… I f*cking hated this.

First there is the rules thing. I harped on that for two reasons, both of which boil down to the same idea: The rules of the match tell us what the goal is. The most basic facet of this is the fact that if we don’t know what the rules are, we don’t know what to look for. Was Taker being arrogant by dragging AJ over to the grave instead of pinning him? If you don’t tell me that there are no pinfalls in this match, how am I supposed to know? If someone locks in a submission, if this a potential finish or not?

The second reason that knowing the rules is important- and especially in this particular feud, is that it explains to us what the competitors hope to get out of the match. Taker has already beaten AJ and his pals up about thirty times, so what does beating them up again do for Taker? Similarly, what does AJ get out of fighting Taker in this graveyard instead of fighting him in a wrestling ring. If you tell me it’s a buried alive match then yes, I get the symbolism, but Taker has talked in metaphor so often that how am I supposed to know when people in Undertaker feuds are being literal or not? If he wants to end Taker’s career, why does it have to be in this silly graveyard fight?

Then there is the whole American Badass thing. While it makes sense that if you are trying to humanize The Undertaker, then the American Badass persona is the one to do it with, it didn’t actually fit into the narrative here. As I said above, there was no event precipitating the change, and a buried alive match special effects fight in a graveyard feels a lot more like something that Deadman Undertaker would be involved in than motorcycle-riding Undertaker. And, of course, there is the fact that he has been Deadman Undertaker this entire feud, so why the sudden change.
Then we come to the whole set-up in general. I’ve made it clear that I’m not really a fan of these things. I find the change from “presentation of a live sporting event” style to “multi-camera cinematic presentation, complete with background music” to be very immersion-breaking, but that’s not my main problem with these things. I’ve come to accept that. My major problem with these things is the prevailing attitude that the idea that “because it will be cool” is a good enough reason to do something that I as a fan am supposed to accept it. This goes both in the macro sense -i.e. that I’m supposed to like this simply because they’re doing this fancy cinematic thing, even though most of it is just punch-kick stuff, or that I’m supposed to be happy to see something this cool even if they haven’t given me any rules so I don’t know what I’m supposed to be cheering for or what this is supposed to solve- and in the micro sense- that I’m just supposed to accept that all of these people dressed as druids were hiding in that barn and waiting for a cue to attack The Undertaker. I know I said that if it wasn’t Bullet Club under those hoods I wouldn’t care, but that was more in the “it won’t be enough of a surprise to warrant doing this” sense. I still want to know who these people why and why they decided to attack The Undertaker.

Then there is the fact that the message of this whole thing didn’t work for me. We’ve seen Taker take a lot more punishment than this. If he is telling AJ that AJ put up a great fight even though AJ had a bunch of help and Taker still spent most of the fight on offense, that just makes me think that Taker really is older and weaker than he has been in the past, which is the exact opposite of what the message was supposed to be.

Final Thoughts
This was a TERRIBLE show from WWE. Absolutely terrible. And it’s not because of coronavirus. Most of the decisions that lead to the downfall of this show were poor judgement calls made by WWE, both in relation to allotting time to the matches and to booking the finishes. This show didn’t feel like it solved much of anything (distraction finishes, a roll-up in Becky vs. Baszler in a short match, Taker winning even though he’d already beaten the OC up a bunch of times), the whole pointless restart in Owens vs. Rollins, and WHO THE F*CK DECIDED THAT THE WOMEN’S TAG TITLE MATCH SHOULD SIXTEEN MINUTES WHILE DRAGON VS. ZAYN AND BECKY VS. BASZLER ONLY GOT 8-10? Seriously! I’m a bigger Alexa Bliss! fan than most, and even I would tell you that if only one of those three matches could go sixteen minutes and the others had to go 8-10, Alexa & Nikki vs. Kabuki Warriors is sure as hell not going to be the one that goes sixteen!

Hopefully tomorrow night’s show is better. Hell… it had better be a lot better than this. And they’re going to have to do that without much of anything other than Edge vs. Orton that jumps out to me as either a real work-rate match (the tag title match maybe qualifies, Charlotte vs. Rhea is borderline, and Brock vs Drew could be if Brock actually decides to put effort in) or a match that really feels big (Rhea vs. Charlotte feels like fake hype, I don’t care about anything The Fiend is doing, and I’ve been burned too many times by Brock to be able to get excited about anything he does). They’ve got one hell of an uphill climb.

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