This is the first of a two-part review of Wrestlemania 36. If the WWE gets two days, so do we. I’m joined in this adventure by Crossing Broad’s international man of mystery, the Coggin Toboggan.
Kairi Sane and Asuka (women’s tag team champions) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nicki Cross
Coggin: Outside of Drew McIntyre (and we’ll get to him in a minute) there is NOBODY I feel worse for than Kairi Sane with the Wrestlemania changes. You have an entire gimmick worked around your love of pirates. Wrestlemania is scheduled to be in a football stadium that has a pirate ship replica built into the stands. There’s no better setting for you as a professional wrestler… and a global pandemic forces everything inside and all of your ideas for a grand entrance are completely squashed. The least the WWE could have done was put some fake plastic pirate bones on the entrance ramp for Sane, maybe a few fake skeleton Halloween decorations in the stands. Wouldn’t have been too hard.
I would have picked a different match to kick off this entirely strange and new Wrestlemania, something with a bit more energy and effort, but Asuka is a legitimate badass and works FAR more better as a heel, so after a little bit of a feeling out process the teams kicked it up a notch for a solid opener to Wrestlemania. Sane and Asuka are far too good to let a match languish, and anytime you can watch Sane drop one of the prettiest top-rope elbows in wrestling today it’s never going to be a disappointment.
Interestingly enough, it seemed like Cross did most of the heavy lifting throughout the entire match, but the finish went to Bliss as she hit an off-target “Twisted Bliss” on Sane’s knees for the win and NEW women’s tag team champions.
Not the outcome I would have picked, but still a solid effort. Russ, what are your thoughts?
Match Grade: B-
Russ: I have to be honest, this one wasn’t a match that I cared all that much about going into WM36. After months of questioning the mere existence of a pirate gimmick from Sane, it was her time to shine as she’d get to take her place on stage at the captain’s wheel, except… she was performing at the same lackluster performance center we’ve had to take in from every angle for the past few weeks. It was a terrible way to start the show from an optics standpoint, and it probably affected how much I put into getting behind this match. I spent the first few minutes lamenting to my wife that a company with more than adequate financial backing didn’t look like they’d put any real thought into the ambiance of what should be the biggest stage of the year.
Anyway, I have to agree with Coggin. Asuka was built as a proverbial badass and is still believable in that role, except this loss drops her to 0-3 all-time at Wrestlemania. For a woman who once rode a Goldberg-esque undefeated streak to the main roster, there’s been a bit of a dip in believability here. It’s been funny to see them apply the green mist gimmick that harkens back to the days of Tajiri to reinforce her status as a heel, but I digress. Cross did a great job of carrying her side of the match, while Bliss flat-out missed her target. I would’ve preferred an audible call at that point to set up a cleaner finish, but it’s not like they had filmed this a week in advance, allowing them to re-shoot the ending. Oh wait.
Match Grade: C+
King Corbin vs. Elias
Coggin: So this… happened I guess? It basically boiled down to a guy who has been shoved down fans’ throats for the last few years despite being absolutely despised as a performer (King Corbin) versus a guy whose entire gimmick consists of playing mean songs on his guitar about his opponents or the town he’s wrestling in. Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat this ain’t.
At least Elias uses his fake guitar as a weapon to kick off the match. Somewhere the Honky Tonk Man nodded in approval.
The only thing I can focus on throughout this brief and pointless affair is Elias has crud firmly lodged in his beard. Spit? Mucus? Snot?
Elias wins with a roll up and a handful of Corbin’s tights after Corbin was admonished by the ref for trying to cheat moments before by putting his feet on the ropes during a pinfall attempt. Elias wins and let us never speak of these two ever again.
Match grade: C-
Russ: This one was just weird. Corbin’s such a good orator, so I get why WWE keeps pushing him, but the King Corbin gimmick is so cheesy it belongs on a Tony Luke’s steak. Elias might not be a main-event level talent, but his physique and overall look are about as close as you’re going to get to the reincarnation of Macho Man. I’d be fine if they kept this rivalry going as both men can hang on the mic and are solid in-ring competitors.
As for that stuff in Elias’ beard, it’s certainly not the diamonds that adorn the Robbins Delaware diamonds guy.
Match Grade: C
Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler for the Raw Women’s Championship
Coggin: Thank Christ, a perfect way to get the horrendous taste of Corbin and Elias out of our mouths with two of the most talented women in wrestling. Shayna Baszler is a real-world badass who smashed faces in the UFC for a living before transitioning to professional wrestling and Becky Lynch has had one of the most successful two-year runs for any professional wrestler EVER.
One thing that’s increasingly obvious is Bayszler would knock me out in five seconds in a real fight and then eat my soul. I feel very strongly about this.
Wrestlers pantomiming to fans that aren’t there is either extraordinarily silly or a great piece of theater. I can’t decide yet. Either way it’s truly bizarre to see these huge moves to no crowd reaction. Lynch crushed Baszler on the ring apron with a modified rock bottom to stony silence. Strange.
One upside to no crowd noise is getting to hear how hard wrestlers actually hit each other.. Baszler smashed Lynch’s head on the side of the announcers table and it was quite the gross thud.
Lynch wins after being put into a coquina clutch, flipping over, and pinning Baszler while the move was still locked in. The match was less than 10 minutes long…not sure why it was so hasty.
On a personal note it’s bourbon time. Let’s get nuts.
Match grade: B-
Russ: I’ll tell you why the match was as short as it was. Baszler would kill Lynch. I know we’re supposed to suspend reality when we watch pro wrestling, but this is the problem with trying to make Becky Lynch into a red-headed lady Stone Cold. She’s not physically imposing. I don’t think she’s as good on the mic as many believe and I’ve kind’ve grown tired of The Man. The division isn’t bereft of talent and I think it’s time to diversify. Here’s an idea: give Baszler a mouthpiece. Not that one. Paul Heyman might be unfair given his longtime partnership with Brock Lesnar, but I think this was the time to put her over.
The counter was smart as it’s been used to beat Baszler in the past. Lynch clearly studies film. There were some solid spots, but this wasn’t at the level I expected and I have to penalize it for the decision to have Becky retain.
Match Grade: C+
Daniel Bryan w/ Drew Gulak vs. Sami Zayn w/ Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship.
Coggin: Gronk and Mojo Rawley halfheartedly doing “yes” chants as Bryan comes to the ring is insanely depressing.
Zayn, the champion, choosing to wrestle in khakis is the most heelish decision I’ve seen all night. I love it.
It’s been four minutes and Zayn keeps running away. He’s jumping in and out of the ring like they’ve realized they’re running short on the show. Vince McMahon voice: “STALL GODAMNIT, WE NEED TO MILK THIS FOR ALL IT’S WORTH.”
Hmm….bourbon is amazing.
Bryan could get a good match out of the Iron Sheik at this point, so it’s not really a surprise that this is the best match of the night so far. Bryan slapped Zayn so hard it echoed through the entire performance center.
These guys are hitting each other HARD. Huge chops, huge kicks, they have to sting like shit. I am such a pussy.
Zayn WINS after a Helluva kick as Bryan comes off the top rope to retain the Intercontinental Champion. Bryan’s buddy Gulak, a Philadelphia native, blew the match when he got jumped on the outside of the ring and caused a distraction. The morale of the story is Philadelphia sports always disappoint in big moments.
Match grade: B
Russ: I didn’t foresee Sami Zayn traipsing to the ring in Fidel Castro cosplay, but here we are. This match was better than expected. I know it’s still real to me damn it, but these guys were slapping the crap out of each other. If you offered me a king’s ransom to take a few of those chops, I’d pee my pants, weep, acquiesce, complain afterwards, and live like royalty. I certainly wouldn’t be happy about it in the moment.
Zayn winning was a real surprise and I was absolutely thrilled for him. Did I mention I’m not a Daniel Bryan fan? [boos rain down from the imaginary crowd]
Match Grade: B+
Triple threat Ladder title match: Kofi Kingston vs. Jimmy Uso vs. John Morrison for the WWE Tag Team Championships (despite it not being a tag team match)
Coggin: An originally scheduled triple threat tag team ladder match that had to be altered after the Miz didn’t practice social distancing and got sick. Still being held for the tag team championships despite it not being a tag team match. This is what happens when you don’t stay 6-feet away from people.
This is the match that should have opened the show. Three insane athletes going full bore. Tons of energy, lots of noise with the clangy ladders to distract from no fans.
Nothing has to be more demoralizing than sacrificing your body with insane high spots to no crowd reaction. Getting a concussion has to be slightly more worth it if you’re showered in praise by fans after.
I’d die a happy man if in one of these ladder matches they just did a shot-for-shot remake of Jackie Chan’s ladder fight in “First Strike.”
John Morrison randomly “wrestled” the Phanatic before a Phillies game last season. Take that for what it’s worth.
The best ladder matches just devolve into insane spot fests, and this is no exception. There’s nothing better than someone just CHUCKING a chair or ladder into a wrestler’s face. So inelegant, but so, so satisfying.
HOLY SHIT….Morrison just walked across the entire rope from post to post to Kingston standing on the other post. Too fucking cool. I’ve never seen that. Disappointing it wasn’t done in front of 90,000 fans going batshit crazy.
Kingston gets obliterated face first into a ladder that’s bridged from the rope to another ladder. If a wrestler gets a concussion when nobody’s around, does it really happen? That’s an ancient Chinese riddle for you.
All three wrestlers grab the hanging titles at the same time in a silly spot where Kingston and Uso headbutt Morrison off the ladder, who holds on to them as he falls through another ladder for the win. Hell of a match with a goofy ending, but props to these three for killing themselves in front of nobody.
Match Grade: B+
Russ: You know, Cog, I want to roast The Miz for being a self-absorbed narcissist, but I dunno. He took the heel persona a bit far by showing up to the performance center sick, risking the health of his fellow performers and immune-suppressed Roman Reigns. That’s commitment to being a pile of human fecal matter. Or maybe the dirt sheets were wrong. Either way, it impacted this match in a big way and arguably made it better than if all six men had been involved.
Watching Morrison run across the top rope was lovely, but he’s no Rey Fénix. I will give him credit for this bonkers move off one foot from to top of the ring post.
— NoDQ.com: WWE Backlash 2020 news #WWEBacklash (@nodqdotcom) April 5, 2020
If there’s one thing this match did well, it was hitting some memorable spots that resonated throughout an empty building and right through the speakers into my living room. The Usos are kind of corny, but watching this spot unfold and hearing the trash talk to Kofi immediately after was marvelous:
Jimmy talking trash to Kofi after bouncing his face off the ladder pic.twitter.com/arxaa3boXK
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) April 5, 2020
This ending to the match -one which saw Morrison lose the battle while winning the war- was a pretty spectacular one:
Okay – THAT was a creative ending!
— GiveMeSport WWE & Wrestling (@GMS_WWE) April 5, 2020
I’m a sucker for high spots and tend to give performers a bit of a nod when they take huge bumps from inanimate objects.
Match Grade: A-
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Coggin: The 6th match of the evening and the second bourbon. Just feels right. Owens is one of the most vocal wrestlers going right now, you can hear him when there are 60,000 fans going crazy. Be interesting to see how much he talks tonight.
Hopefully two of the most talented wrestlers on the roster can pull off a good match that had a lukewarm buildup. Seems like this would be better on random Monday Night Raw than Wrestlemania, but we’ll see.
For a big man Kevin Owens can move so well. He’s flipping off of shit, throwing super kicks left and right, he’s the man. In a sweet sequence Rollins hits Owens with an enziguri, knocks him into the ropes, and Owen rebounds into a huge clothesline. Very good, high paced match so far.
All the matches have been high paced outside of the first two. Smart decision to not have any deadspots when nobody is there watching this live.
Well that was short lived, as Owens wins by DQ after the two exit the ring and Rollins hits him with the ring bell. Cheap ending.
Hold on a second. Owens gets on the mic. Looks like he wants Rollins back in the ring. The action continues.
Calls for a no DQ match. It continues. I wonder if someone is going to interfere in this?
In a spot you’ll see repeated FOREVER on WWE broadcasts, Owens climbs up onto a Wrestlemania sign as Rollins is laying on the announcer table and he drops a massive elbow from nearly 20 feet up, obliterating both competitors. He’s able to roll Rollins back into the ring, hit him with a stunner, and mercifully end the brutal bout.
The cheap restart was odd, but both Rollins and Owens stole the show (as they really should everytime they wrestle) and put on a classic. Bonus points for doing such an insane spot with no fans.
Match Grade: A-
Russ: This has had a really solid buildup over the past few months, moving Seth Rollins away from a babyface role he couldn’t execute fully to embracing the heel he’s always been meant to be. It’s where he’s done his best work. The Monday Night Messiah image and marketing has been spectacular. With the mic ability these two have, it was no surprise the trash talk throughout would be next level. It sure was.
The constant barking at each other distracted from the silent, non-existent ambiance of the performance center. Once again, we got to see a creative ending as the initial bout ended with Rollins ringing Owens’ bell with… the ring bell. As disappointed as I was with that finish, I expected that to be the end, setting up a real showdown at Summer Slam.
Owens demanding a restart was in character. Rollins jumping back in because he had his manhood questioned? Maybe not so much.
Owens jumping from the Wrestlemania sign everyone’s been pointing at for months, driving Rollins through the announce desk was well-executed and a fine way to set up a stunner and pinfall victory. Honestly, I’d be down with this continuing through the summer. Keep building out the stables and alliances. Two factions with two of the best performers in the company is a recipe for success if the company starts to pivot to a more narrative-based program like we’ve seen AEW do with Dynamite.
Great long-range storytelling and nice execution on the grandest soundstage of them all.
Match Grade: A
Braun Strowman vs. Goldberg for the Universal Championship
Coggin: Braun Strowman up against pop-pop Bill Goldberg in a pre-taped match for the Universal Championship after Roman Reigns had to pull out from Wrestlemania due to Covid fears. Thankfully this is pre-taped so we don’t have to see Goldberg give himself a concussion or fail to lift the much larger Strowman over his head for a depressing Jackhammer.
Goldberg is over 50 and has probably only amassed more than 15 cumulative minutes of in ring action in his entire career.
Goldberg gives Strowman three spears in a row and Strowman kicks out. Goldberg already looks gassed despite only wrestling for 20 seconds. He delivers a fourth spear and thankfully doesn’t attempt a jackhammer and goes for the pin again. Strowman kicks out yet again.
Strowman hits FOUR powerslams in a row. Does this qualify for senior citizen abuse?
WOW… Braun Strowman WINS?! That is, well, really quite surprising. Everyone had penciled Reigns in for the championship, so I only assumed they’d keep the belt on Goldberg for another months until Reigns could wrestle again.
It seems like the WWE is definitely just throwing Strowman a bone and having him be a placeholder for Reigns when he can wrestle again, but still cool. Genuinely surprising outcome, but seems like they should have given Strowman a major run a lot sooner.
Match Grade: C+
Russ: I’m bummed on a few levels. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch WWF, because men chopped at their genital areas. Women marched around in barely nothing at all. WCW was what I had. Oddly enough, it pushed certain boundaries further than WWF in some respects until an acquisition from Time Warner went through. (Side note: Go listen to 83 Weeks, where Eric Bischoff can walk you through why WCW got neutered and irreparably damaged.)
My favorite wrestler was always Goldberg. The undefeated streak? The clean public image? The only man with the guys to stand up to and never join the nWo? Even when WCW tried to stupidly turn him heel, I was a Goldberg guy. When he debuted in a Harley-Davidson jacket to spear The Rock? I was back in. When I fell away from wrestling, who brought me back in? In 2016 I had the chance to show my oldest son -who was a year and a half old at the time- my favorite wrestler. (Not the best idea. 18-month-old kids grow. They spear.) Anyway… he looked virtually the same. He squashed Brock Lesnar. He won the Universal title from Kevin Owens.
Fast forward three years and bang, he was back again. This dude is 53. He looks incredible. The Undertaker is two years older and needs heavily-edited footage to look remotely passable. I expected a victory to set up a SummerSlam battle of the spears with Roman Reigns. I was wrong (again).
Braun Strowman had the world eating out of the palm of his hand 18 months or so ago. He was the #1 draw. He was so far over with fans as this unbeatable force so much so that I thought we were witnessing the second coming of Goldberg. Then something happened. Strowman dropped match after match. He won the Money in the Bank contract and cashed it in at the most idiotic time to get into a triple threat match instead of taking advantage of a downed Brock Lesnar. He never recovered. He lost the Intercontinental Championship to Sami Zayn. Sure it was a 3-on-1 handicap match, but that’s awful for his look.
The match was a bunch of spears and bodyslams. It was a bad match. It was a sad moment, not to see my favorite childhood wrestler fall. Not seeing a guy who’d earned his shot years prior. Not because it went down in an empty arena. It was sad because it was the perfect microcosm of the bungled mess the decision making in World Wrestling Entertainment has been for the past decade.
Congrats to Braun, though. I hope he gets a nice run out of this.
Match Grade: C-
Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a boneyard match
Coggin: OOOOOHHHHHH A BONEYARD MATCH….SPOOKY. The WWE doesn’t want to say “graveyard” when so many people are dying in real life, so BONEYARD it is.
Pre-taped in a graveyard (boneyard) with a hearse pulling up and Undertaker’s entrance music playing. Styles himself exits out of a coffin in the back of the hearse. Fun swerve.
The Undertaker has apparently reverted to his American Badass persona and drives into the cemetery in a motorcycle……oh, excuse me, a MOTORIZED HELL BIKE for the match.
If the WWE doesn’t have the various wrestlers the Undertaker buried alive rise from their graves during this match that’s a huge missed opportunity.
This really isn’t as corny as I thought it would be…..and probably best considering the Undertaker is 900 years old and can’t move. Protects him well, keeps him as a threatening figure, and doesn’t subject us to seeing him with smeared eyeliner and falling down during basic moves. Smart decision
The OC shows up….and then a SPOOKY barnyard behind them lights up and several cloaked figures surround the Undertaker. They look like monks. He dispatches them easily with a few stiff punches. Makes sense, most monks are pacifists.
Who is that….is that Kamala in the shadows?! No, it’s just a bush.
Sadly, in a pre-taped segment the Undertaker’s hairline is the most depressing part of Wrestlemania.
The Undertaker survives being buried alive by teleporting out of a pre-dug grave and SHOWING UP RIGHT BEHIND AJ STYLES. SPOOKY! Anything can happen in a BONEYARD after all.
There’s a lot of stage lighting for a graveyard.
Styles is choke slammed off a barn into a pile of wood. Can we at least get the old guy from Pet Sematary out here? That ground is sour….
The Undertaker teases burying AJ Styles, pulls him back, and then knocks him into the open grave before burying him with enough dirt to cover maybe 1/8th of the hole. Styles rigor mortised hand is shown poking out of the dirt. I guess the Undertaker killed him for real? Fun for the whole family!
This was surprisingly fun. The WWE really steered into the skid of corniness and made this just silly enough that it was entertaining, and just SPOOKY enough to make it cool. It could have been a complete disaster all around, but credit to Undertaker and Styles for making it work.
Match Grade: B-
Russ: I don’t know where to start. So I’ll skip to the end. The return of the American Badass was a much-welcomed move. AJ Styles did yeoman’s work in the buildup, seemingly breaking kayfabe multiple times along the way to add a sense of real world realism.
The trolling continued when Styles revealed himself as the man in the casket in the hearse. Brilliant. The wall being broken down and the circle of minions surrounding the Undertaker was glorious. The best part of the match was the moment Mark Calaway took a moment to give kudos to Styles on a well-fought bout, only to Leonidas kick him into the grave Styles had dug.
While I find the masses’ approval of this one to be a total 180 from the response to Matt Hardy’s “The Ultimate Deletion,” better late than never.
This is the only way The Undertaker should be booked from now until the end of time. This was a decent enough match, certainly better than the alternative of an in-ring fight. It does get the juices flowing for what a dream match of The Undertaker v. Sting could look like one year from now in Hollywood.
Match Grade: A-