2020 has been unlike any year in modern history. In just six months the world has been turned upside down in a way no-one saw coming. People have been locked away at home, while thousands upon thousands have not been so lucky and have passed away from the deadly effects of Covid-19. All industries have been impacted, with most sports and leisure sectors essentially forced to shut down. However, the biggest wrestling companies have managed, rightly or wrongly, to stay on air, and while that has meant doing shows in front of no fans, the show did indeed go on. Indeed, WWE were almost forced to cancel Wrestlemania 36, but instead were able to relocate to the WWE Performance Centre, but hold the card in an empty arena. This context is important when you consider the event in comparison to the “Showcase of the Immortals” in other years.
The first night of Wrestlemania 36 was a curious mixture of matches, some of which worked in their environment and others that did not. The main event of the show was perhaps the most memorable “match” across the two nights, as The Undertaker took on AJ Styles in a Boneyard match. This was almost a mini-movie, and if you haven’t seen it I would suggest that as reason enough to purchase this release.
The rest of the first night was a mixed bag. Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs The Kabuki Warriors was a decent opener, while Elias and Baron Corbin put on a match that was better than it probably had any right to be. Conversely, Daniel Bryan vs Sami Zayn wasn’t everything it could have been, but the match they could have had, in theory, wouldn’t really have worked for the character Zayn was playing. Goldberg vs Braun Strowman wasn’t great, but at least it was short and hopefully this is the end of Goldberg’s run with WWE. Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens put together a superb brawl, but the big dive off the sign at the end suffered for the lack of an audience. Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler was solid, and Baszler was dominant but the ending was somewhat abrupt. Finally, John Morrison vs Jimmy Uso vs Kofi Kingston was a match that featured three guys going over and above to put on a ridiculously risky ladder match with lots of big stunts that I’m sure would have gone over huge with a crowd, but they made it work in this atmosphere.
The second night of Wrestlemania 36 was as equally dominated by a non-traditional bout as the previous evening. John Cena vs Bray Wyatt was less a match and more an abstract psychodrama taking apart the mythos of John Cena in a surreal and bizarre fashion. This could have easily failed in execution, but Wyatt and Cena both went all in, and that commitment makes this work. The Firefly Funhouse match may be the most ambitious thing WWE has ever attempted, and it worked perfectly.
The remainder of the show again varied greatly in terms of quality. Edge vs Randy Orton could have been excellent, but it was probably about ten minutes too long. Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte was a strong bout, even if the result was a surprise. Aleister Black vs Bobby Lashley was a nothing match, but it was more than passable, while The Street Profits vs Angel Garza and Austin Theory was pretty forgettable other than the post-match angle. The women’s five-way bout told a good story about possible dissension between Sasha Banks and Bayley, while also putting plenty of spotlight on the other women involved.
Dolph Ziggler vs Otis was really fun, but it’s really disappointing that it happened in front of no-one, simply because the pay-off to the whole story would have got a huge pop. Finally, Drew McIntyre vs Brock Lesnar was a sprint that did great things for Drew and made far better use of the format than Goldberg and Braun did on night 1.
In isolation, Wrestlemania 36 is a weird show. The lack of an audience, as well as the “cinematic” nature of a couple of the matches marked this out as an unusual version of the massive show we’ve become used to. Should we go back to the huge stadium events, then this will be a fun artifact of a bygone time and something that we can all look back on. However, if this is the new normal, Wrestlemania 36 might well be a forgettable and ultimately not-so-well regarded show. For now, we have to view it in a vacuum, and on that basis it was an enjoyable show that was helped immeasurably by being broken up over two nights, with lots of good in-ring action, but a certain something lacking and a number of award silences that do detract from the atmosphere, but in the better matches the performers involved do enough to overcome that and make you forget they are in an empty arena, even if only for a moment.
EXTRAS: Included with the Blu-ray are a multitude of special features. Both nights had a kick off match, with Drew Gulak vs Cesaro from Night 1, and Liv Morgan vs Natalya from Night 2. In addition a variety of segments from Raw and Smackdown are included featuring the build for AJ Styles vs The Undertaker, Drew McIntyre vs Brock Lesnar, Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte and Edge Vs Randy Orton. Lots of good stuff, but nothing crucial.