Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the past seven days. This week WWE have been ramping up for Wrestlemania, albeit in unusual circumstances in the current climate as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the world.
Woah, Woah...Coronavirus. Hmm. Not quite how the song goes, but an accurate representation of the situation currently. The biggest show of the year, and the most anticipated week in the global wrestling calendar are both something of a non-event in 2020 for obvious reasons. Not that I’m complaining, because a global pandemic has to be the first priority. Unquestionably. However, things within the wrestling industry have basically ground to a halt. Sure, Raw, Smackdown, NXT and Dynamite are all still on air but everything feels like it is a holding pattern right now. That said, Wrestlemania, pre-taped and in the can, is airing this weekend over two nights and as such I feel we should definitely preview what is going to be one of the most memorable Wrestlemania shows in history.
However, before we do that I’d like to touch on some of my favourite Wrestlemania moments from over the years. As a child, the first Wrestlemania I saw was Wrestlemania 8 on a tape-recorded from Sky Movies (this pre-dated Sky Sports showing WWF, but only just). While I had seen wrestling before, the sheer scale and mass of the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana overawed me. It seemed like the greatest thing that anyone had ever produced and unlike anything I had ever seen. Macho Man Randy Savage vs Ric Flair was a match that was burnt into my memory from that moment, with Bret “The Hitman” Hart (my childhood favourite) vs “Rowdy” Roddy Piper another firm favourite. Weirdly, despite being a huge Hulk Hogan fan, I was always bored by the main event with Sid Justice. Although Sid would go on to be a perennial favourite of mine over the years. It was really only the finish of the match with Papa Shango inexplicably getting involved and causing the DQ, and subsequently, Ultimate Warrior returning to send everyone home happy that I remembered from the ending of the show. A DQ in the Wrestlemania main event, can you even fathom the reaction to such a thing in 2020. A different time.
Over the years Wrestlemania would provide many happy memories for me. Bret Hart getting his big win over Yokozuna in 1994, the epic ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon on that same show. HBK and Hart facing off in 1996 in an Iron Man match, and the match the year after between Hart and the rising star of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Fun fact, the early evening, pre-watershed version of that match I watched as a child was so heavily butchered that it was only years later I realised quite how incredible that bout was. During the “Attitude Era” which basically lasted through to the end of my childhood, wrestling was cool and everyone enjoyed The Rock and Austin having their huge moments and eventually it all culminated with arguably the greatest main event in Wrestlemania history.
As an adult, Wrestlemania has been a cornerstone of my yearly calendar. The Undertaker-Shawn Michaels epics, the returns of The Rock and Brock Lesnar among others and a number of huge marquee matches making for a much-anticipated show every year, even as the running times crept up. I was lucky enough to live out a long-standing dream by attending Wrestlemania 29 in New Jersey, which was a slight disappointment in part due to the aggressive nature of the New York crowd, and due to a somewhat underwhelming event. Still, I look back on it fondly as the last successful defence of Undertaker’s streak against CM Punk in a great match, and a show with some fun undercard bouts. I would return to Wrestlemania in Santa Clara in 2015, in attendance while on my honeymoon (my wife is a saint) and in the sunshine I had one of the greatest days of my life seeing a phenomenal show including seeing Sting wrestle live in person, and Seth Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase in the main event which was an incredible experience.
It’s safe to say Wrestlemania has been a huge part of my life, and I associate with huge moments unfolding in front of an incredible crowd, a spectacle on a par with a cup final or the Superbowl. However, this year is going to be somewhat different with no crowd, in the confines of the comparatively small WWE Performance Centre. However, knowing WWE as I do I think they will have done everything possible to make this a can’t-miss show with some big surprises and some unforgettable, albeit unusual moments.
Let’s have a look at the “Showcase of the Immortals”, starting with the two big Men’s title matches. It’s hard not to feel for Drew McIntyre, who after years of hard grind looks set to have his big coronation as the top dog within the industry and a win over Brock Lesnar happen in front of no-one as opposed to in front of a massive crowd. However, I hope they do actually pull the trigger on McIntyre because he has all the tools needed at his disposable to be a top star. I just hope WWE doesn’t bottle it in terms of following through because of the circumstances. The match itself will undoubtedly be extremely physical, and I expect Lesnar to give more to McIntyre than the average opponent regardless of the match outcome.
On the other side of things, in theory, it should be Bill Goldberg defending the Universal Title against Roman Reigns, but Reigns has been removed from the match (or certainly will be on the show itself) due to health concerns, which is totally understandable given his fairly recent brush with cancer. As to who his replacement will be, who knows? However, hopefully, WWE has cooked up something strong to both explain Reigns not being involved and who will take his place.
The three women’s matches on this show all have individual intrigue attached. Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte Flair is rare opportunity to make a new star in Ripley and I fully expect her and Flair to do everything possible to steal the show. However, with Ripley cooling off a bit since the start of the year I am concerned this might not be an opportunity that WWE seize. On the Raw side of things, Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler could go a variety of ways, although again I fully hope WWE take a chance on Baszler given how dominant she has been so far. Lynch can regroup and come back to dethrone Baszler at a later date, but for now, Shayna should be given the ball and the chance to run with it. I would personally, even want her to beat Lynch in mere seconds, ala Goldberg/Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series 2016. On the Smackdown brand, Bayley has been forced to defend her title against Lacey Evans, Naomi, Tamina, and most intriguingly her tag partner Sasha Banks. Will this result in a turn by Banks or Bayley? Who can say? I would certainly assume it plays into the finish, but this could go either way. Finally, Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss challenge Asuka and Kairi Sane for the women’s tag championships in a match that should deliver in the ring, but that has minimal hype around it.
Further down the card, there is plenty to get excited about from an in-ring perspective. Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan for the Intercontinental Championship would have been a dream match a few years ago and hopefully, Zayn is allowed to showcase how good he is here rather than simply playing the cowardly heel. Otis vs Dolph Ziggler is a match that sadly will play out to silence when the inevitable union of Otis with Mandy Rose and Ziggler getting his comeuppance would have been a great moment in front of a huge crowd. Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins should deliver in the ring, but it’s a combination I feel I’ve seen so many times that it’s hard to get too excited.
One of the few matches that feels like it has had a proper build here is Edge vs Randy Orton. There is so much story there and Orton has been at a career-best, while Edge has never looked better. It feels personal, heated and despite the lack of an audience this feels like something of an event match and to have achieved that feat under the circumstances gives an indication of how well both men have done with this story since Edge returned in a truly emotional moment at this year’s Royal Rumble.
The Miz and John Morrison vs The New Day vs The Usos in a ladder match sounds great on paper, but if reports are to be believed that match will not be happening as advertised, so I’ll hold back judgement on that particular bout until after the show. The Street Profits vs Austin Theory and Angel Garza has no real momentum due to the numerous changes to the programmes for both “teams” and the last-minute introduction of Theory, while Aleister Black vs Bobby Lashley seems to be happening purely for the sake of getting both on the card. While there was more build for Elias vs Baron Corbin, including that insane bump on last week’s Smackdown, but I have little-to-no interest in seeing this combination.
While most matches are taking place within the Performance Centre, there are two bouts that may be happening elsewhere. AJ Styles vs The Undertaker has been largely based around promos, and Taker seems to be operating as some sort of Deadman-American Bad Ass-Big Evil hybrid, something that makes sense in the circumstances given how silly his traditional entrance likely looks in front of an empty room. No-one seems to know what a “boneyard match” entails, but I would imagine it’s a buried alive/graveyard match and the name is in place to avoid focusing on death too strongly in the middle of a deadly pandemic. On the plus side the smoke-and-mirrors element and the fact the show is taped and can be edited means that The Undertaker should look fantastic despite his limitations. The other unusual match is between John Cena and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt as they battle in “Firefly Funhouse” match. Again, I don’t know if this will be on the set that Wyatt uses on TV, or if there will be a specially built construction or even in an actual funhouse. I am definitely intrigued and expecting something wacky.
Wrestlemania 36 is destined to go down in history as one of the weirdest, most controversial and likely most unforgettable events in WWE history. However, if you can look at it without the context of the times we are living in and as a show in isolation, there should be plenty of excellent wrestling action as well as lots of huge news coming out of the show.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Raw and Smackdown, NXT, Dynamite, and of course, Wrestlemania as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. In the meantime, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.