Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling from the last seven days. This week it was all about WrestleMania as WWE presented their marquee show in front of absolutely no fans. Yes, Covid-19 may have made it impossible to do their usual show, but undeterred, WWE put on their big event over two nights at the WWE Performance Centre, with a couple of matches happening "off site". Let's dive right in with a look at night one.
WrestleMania Night 1
When we talk about the first night of WrestleMania 36, even in years to come the only match that will be talked of, is a bout that didn’t happen in an arena, but in some sort of graveyard. On paper, The Undertaker vs AJ Styles sounded like it would be a buried alive match or something similar within the arena. Worst case I figured we were in for a big old slice of wrestlecrap ala Vampiro vs The Demon in a graveyard match from the latter days of WCW. However, what we got was arguably one of the most fun main events in WrestleMania history. The boneyard match was a slickly produced, B-movie style action scene, superbly choreographed and highly stylised. AJ Styles was excellent as the cocky antagonist, and Taker came across as the ultimate badass. From the second his motorbike came into shot and Metallica began blasting this was easily one of the best things WWE has done in years. The whole thing was the right mixture of silly, tongue-in-cheek, and bizarre. This might have been a necessity of smoke and mirrors due to the circumstances, but in doing so WWE has arguably stumbled upon a way to extend The Undertaker’s career for another few years. It might have been a happy accident, but this was superb and hopefully WWE take notice if the almost universal praise and act accordingly when booking Undertaker in future.
Outside of the boneyard, and back in the Performance Centre the big headline was Braun Strowman making the most of his last-minute opportunity against Bill Goldberg, taking home the Universal title. The match was nothing special, and in truth it felt like Goldberg was phoning it in massively. WWE also should have pulled the trigger on Strowman multiple times over the past three years but he definitely has all the tools and even if it just leads to a feud with Roman Reigns down the line, I definitely see options for them with Strowman if they can rehabilitate him adequately.
The rest of the show was mostly pretty enjoyable, albeit in a weird silent atmosphere. Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs The Kabuki Warriors was a decent opener with a somewhat abrupt ending. Elias and King Corbin was better than it probably had any right to be. Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler was a match that probably suffered for the lack of a crowd but I thought Baszler looked the best she has so far on the main roster, and although I hoped Shayna would go over the finish leaves room for a rematch in the future. Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan perhaps wasn’t what most expected from two of arguably the best in-ring workers on the planet, but in terms of story it was perfect, and Zayn played a blinder as the chicken-shit heel. Again, it leaves enough wiggle room to book a rematch too. Fair play to John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso who basically killed themselves in front of no-one is a spectacular ladder match with a nifty finish. Finally, Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens had probably the match of the night, at least within the PC, with a wild brawl that finished with one of the more memorable moments of the weekend as Owens took a massive dive from the Wrestlemania sign onto Rollins who was lying prone on a table below.
WrestleMania Night 2
Night one certainly set a high bar for the second to follow, and WWE did not let us down. Much like the first night, the second was dominated by a very unusual, unique “match”. Bray Wyatt vs John Cena in a Firefly Funhouse match was arguably one of the most artistically ambitious things that WWE has ever attempted. The deep dive into the psyche of John Cena by making him re-live and re-enact a number of his biggest failures was a tour de force in storytelling and made for a hugely engrossing segment. To call it a match would be unfair to what was in essence a piece of performance art featuring two fantastic performances. If you haven’t seen it, I can only suggest you go and watch it right now. An incredible, unforgettable bit of work and a great use of the circumstances to create something very special.
It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Drew McIntyre. He had seemingly put years of hard work into action as he won the Royal Rumble, and found himself scheduled to face Brock Lesnar in front of tens of thousands of fans. However, Coronavirus put paid to that, and his big coronation took place in front of no fans. That said, his sort match with Brock Lesnar was physical, fast paced and made Drew look like great in victory as he got a win over Lesnar without even a hint of underhanded tactics (something not afforded to Seth Rollins last year, for example). Whether this sets up Drew for a long reign as the company figurehead remains to be seen, but for now he is the kingpin of the Raw brand and rightfully so. Technically, he also defended the belt immediately against Big Show on Wrestlemania, but that was shown on Raw, which was weird but quite cool in a way too. A secret Wrestlemania main event!
The remainder of night two was pretty much on par with night one. Randy Orton vs Edge (who you also have to feel a bit sorry for, making his big comeback in this fashion), while heated and personal was probably a little long and it certainly could have been cut down a bit given this was a pre-taped show. The length and plodding nature of parts of it certainly made it more average than great. They did, however, put together some innovative spots and some fun moments which in the circumstances should be especially applauded. Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte Flair was a fine opener and although Charlotte winning was a surprise, it certainly was done in a way that Ripley can rebound from, while also giving Charlotte a whole new crop of opponents to face on Wednesday nights.
Aleister Black vs Bobby Lashley was more filler than anything until the finish, where Black kicked Lashley’s head clean off (not literally, I would have led with a decapitation if that were the case) after he took some bad advice from Lana, presumably signposting their impending break up. The Street Profits vs Angel Garza with Zelina Vega, was a fun sprint, although the post-match with Bianca Belair making the save to set up a six person feud was really well done. Belair moving to Raw instantly re-energises that division and puts her in a good place to build momentum to challenge Becky Lynch in a few months. Finally, Bayley outlasted her four opponents to retain her title in a better-than-average elimination match, especially considering Tamina and Lacey Evans were two of the competitors. All five women put in a shift, with Evans looking better than she has in some time, Naomi continuing to shine, Tamina playing the monster role effectively, and Sasha Banks and Bayley telling a great story as the seeds of their eventual conflict were sown brilliantly.
All in all, this was a very strong Wrestlemania show over both nights and the shorter run time split into two really helped avoid Mania-fatigue. WWE may have been criticised for having these shows go ahead, and probably rightly so, but the event they produced, especially given the constraints of no audience was superb, with creative risks and unusual, out of the box thinking helping to create an engaging and memorable show where it seemed impossible to do so.
With half the world in lockdown, wrestling has naturally slowed down too. NXT UK have cancelled all future dates, while New Japan continues to be on hiatus. NXT produced a marmite main event between Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa that erred perhaps too close to melodrama than it should have as the two fought inside an empty building. It was odd. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly preferred the ladder match with Io Shirai, Tegan Nox, Candace LeRae, Chelsea Green, Dakota Kai (who was essentially teaming with Raquel Gonzalez) and Mia Yim. All the women busted their behinds to make this a great match and took huge risks despite the lack of an audience. It made for a great spectacle. NXT also had the debuts of Malcolm Bivens’ tag team Indus Sher, who looked like monsters in squashing Ever-Rise (the team formerly known as 3.0 on the indies who were especially excellent in Chikara). WWE did also put on Raw this week, but aside from Nia Jax returning, Cedric Alexander and Ricochet teaming again and the aforementioned Big Show match from Mania, it was a nothing show.
AEW also put on a show this week, but it felt like a placeholder as they continue to have to juggle the postponed Blood and Guts match with keeping things current. Chris Jericho was great on commentary, although Matt Hardy challenging him to an “Elite Deletion” match at the Hardy compound sounds both interesting, and also a little stale. Hardy is great, but this “broken” character peaked in 2016 and I’m not sure that it hasn’t been surpassed now. Cody beating Shawn Spears to advance in the TNT title tournament was expected. Hikaru Shida and Britt Baker put together a very good match as Shida continue to be built up, presumably to challenge Nyla Rose. Brodie Lee and Lance Archer both looked dominant over some enhancement talent. A decent show, but nothing to write home about as AEW continue, like WWE in a holding pattern while the Covid-19 outbreak continues.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with any big news from Raw and Smackdown, NXT, Dynamite, and probably some more general thoughts, 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.
All images courtesy of WWE/AEW