WWE WrestleMania 36 Part 1 Review: The Best We Could Ask For, An Incredible Main Event

Regardless of what happened on Saturday, WWE WrestleMania 36 was always going to be a letdown. As soon as the show moved to the WWE Performance Center, it lost the pizzazz that makes the Showcase of the Immortals the company’s grandest event of the year. Plus, due to valid concerns about the wrestlers’ safety, the atmosphere surrounding this year’s WrestleMania has been mixed at best. Still, we can still appreciate that WWE is giving its fan a show despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. At times like this, we can all use an escape from reality. 

Sure, there weren’t any fans (besides the one on the ceiling), so the near falls didn’t feel dramatic and the match decisions weren’t accompanied by the crowd’s reactions. But every performer on this card gave it their all for us and, considering the dangerous situation surrounding the event, I thank them for that. We may wish WrestleMania 36 featured the theatrics we’ve come to love. But, given the circumstances, the first night of the show gave us the best viewing experience we could have asked for.

Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

The Undercard

Cesaro vs. Drew Gulak

Cesaro and Drew Gulak are two of the best technical wrestlers on WWE’s loaded roster, so it made perfect sense to pit them against each other. Though they didn’t deliver a five-star masterpiece, Gulak and Cesaro put on a solid match that officially kicked off WrestleMania 36. The lack of interference from Sami Zayn or Shinsuke Nakamura was surprising, but a clean win for Cesaro could move the Swiss Cyborg up the ladder on the blue brand. As a singles star, Cesaro has been misused for years, and it’s past time he gets a chance to shine. For Gulak, a loss at WrestleMania is nothing to be ashamed of; he continues to stand out on SmackDown and his future looks bright.

Women’s Tag Team Championship: The Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross

Unfortunately, the Women’s Tag Team Championships have been little more than props throughout their relatively brief existence. The belts were practically invisible during the Kabuki Warriors’ feud with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. The champion’s rivalry with Alexa Bliss and Kairi Sane has made them a little more relevant and this match could be considered a revival for the titles. Both duos showcased sold tag team wrestling and proved why they’ve been atop the admittedly thin women’s tag division. In the end, Bliss Cross Applesauce won this hard-fought match. Let’s hope the title change breathes new life into the Women’s Tag Team Championships and that we see the arrival of some new teams to shake things up even further.

King Corbin vs. Elias

Some matches on the WrestleManias card were clearly thrown together with the mindset of, “We just want to get these guys on the show.” That’s likely the case with Elias’ match against King Corbin; WWE is clearly high on both guys, so they couldn’t leave the duo off the Showcase of the Immortals. Despite this clear motive, the bout was better than anybody could have expected. Corbin continues to make strides and it’s fair to argue he’s earning his place as a top heel on SmackDown. Elias also looked like a legitimate star, and broke out of the comedy act mold he’s been placed in. He took the fight to Corbin and the guitar-strumming star left the show victorious and looking like a bona fide player in the Intercontinental Championship picture. 

becky lynch

Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Main Card

RAW Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Becky Lynch’s match with Shayna Baszler was one of the most unpredictable matches on WrestleMania’s card, so many fans were curious to see which star would emerge as the RAW Women’s Champion. Lynch has largely dominated the red brand since her triumph at WWE WrestleMania 35 while Baszler has been unstoppable since she arrived on RAW. Though Lynch escaped this bout with the title, Baszler should remain her top contender. The challenger practically dominated Lynch at every turn and made The Man look more vulnerable than she has in quite some time. Still, Lynch managed to win the match by reversing the Kirifuda Clutch into a fluky pinfall. Due to such a narrow margin of victory, Baszler has an easy excuse for a rematch, and the always cocky Lynch has every reason to give it to her.

Intercontinental Championship: Sami Zayn (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

Many fans were hoping for a technical clinic between Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn. But Wrestlemania’s Intercontinental Championship match fell short of that description.Like Bryan’s match with Drew Gulak, this contest immediately felt different; it seemed like a Ring of Honor match, as the competitors took their time to get the match going. Even after these opening minutes, the match didn’t hit the next gear. Then, the ending came out of nowhere. After some predictable interference from Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro, Zayn hit a Helluva Kick in mid-air for the win, While the victory bodes well for Zayn and, by extension, his championship, this match didn’t live up to the hype. But it’s fair to expect Bryan, Zayn, Nakmura and Cesaro to collectively continue their excellent work as 2020’s answer to the SmackDown Six.

Ladder Match For The Smackdown Tag Team Championship: John Morrison (c) vs. Jimmy Uso vs. Kofi Kingston 

The ladder match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships went as we all probably expected. Throughout the bout, Kofi Kingston, John Morrison and Jimmy Uso all flew around the ring and took some sickening bumps. Kingston hit an athletic hurricanrana off one ladder and a diving foot stomp off another while Morrison hit an impressive Spanish Fly off the top rope. Time and again, Morrison and Kingston showcased their high-flying skill sets. At several points, Uso felt like the odd man out because he didn’t have as many memorable spots. In a nutshell, that issue defines this whole match. By taking so much punishment, these performers may have taken years off of their careers. We can all appreciate their sacrifice, especially given that no fans were at the arena. But will any of us really remember most of these bumps in a week, let alone a year? Plus, this match felt odd from the get-go, as three men competed as singles stars on behalf of their respective tag teams. Hopefully, at some point, we’ll get to see those three complete duos clash for the titles. But, for now, as fun as this match was, it seems like it’ll quickly join many other ladder matches in obscurity. 

the undertaker

Photo Credit: WWE Network

Main Events

Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins

Most of WrestleMania 36 Part 1’s main event matches delivered, though they were far from perfect. At first, it seemed like a screwy finish ruined an enjoyable match between Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins. After a long, somewhat stale feud, many fans were excited to see the likely culmination of the story between the PrizeFighter and the Monday Night Messiah. The match itself was good, as Owens put his body on the line time and again during some nasty bumps. But it didn’t exceed expectations, given Owens’ and Rollins’ reputations. Then, Rollins intentionally got disqualified when he hit Owens with the ring bell. Thankfully, the bout restarted, and a crazy spot that saw Owens dive from the WrestleMania 36 sign onto Rollins and through the announce table saved the match. With this performance, Owens has cemented himself as one of RAW’s top babyfaces and he should be in line for a WWE Championship run soon. It’s unclear what the future holds for Rollins (or his disciples), but the loss doesn’t hurt his standing.

Universal Championship: Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman

Braun Strowman is the new Universal Champion. This is not a drill. Who could have predicted that the Monster Among Men would leave The Showcase of the Immortals with such a prestigious title around his waist? But here we are. The match followed the formula of Goldberg’s last several WWE matches: the legend hit several Spears in the first minute. He couldn’t hit the Jackhammer, though, and that’s when Strowman seized control. Several powerslams later, it was over, and WWE had crowned a new champion. The match was shorter than most of WWE’s video packages, which isn’t surprising. But such a short Universal Championship match stood out like a sore thumb at WrestleMania.

Some fans may be happy for Strowman, a star who’s had several stops and starts in the main event picture. Others may wish that Goldberg retained so that he could drop the Universal Championship to Reigns at a later date. Calling this match a no-win situation may seem like an exaggeration, but no possible outcome was ideal. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what Strowman’s run with the title looks like. 

Boneyard Match: The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles 

It’s ironic that while WrestleMania 36 didn’t have the fireworks or the flair we’ve come to expect, its main event made the show feel more cinematic than it has in years. WWE went all-in on the Boneyard Match and made it a mini-movie. And it was glorious. From the entrances (AJ Styles arrived in a hearse and The Undertaker rode in on a motorcycle,) to the theatrical background music, this fight was a stellar production. Toss in some delightful dialogue from both men, like when The Deadman said, “You’ve dug your own grave, son,” and the performers turned this match from good to great. 

I’ll admit that I’m biased because the Boneyard Match reminded me of Logan, my favorite movie of all time. Here, like Wolverine, The Undertaker is the aging hero who’s lacing up his boots one last time. The parallels are even clearer at the climax, as the Deadman, on his last legs, repeatedly wheezes while Styles prepares to finish him off. As The Phenomenal One closed in on victory, one final uncanny trick from The Undertaker gave him the strength to win the match. In an unforgettable moment, the Deadman teleported out of the grave and onto the seat behind Styles, who was riding a backhoe. From there, it was only a matter of time until The Undertaker triumphed and rode off into the night. Seeing the full-fledged return of the Deadman’s biker persona was an incredible trip down memory lane and this match would be a fitting end to the legend’s iconic career. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll finally get the conclusion he deserves; is there a better way to go out than riding off into the sunset? Regardless, the Boneyard Match was the perfect way to end WrestleMania 36: Part 1.

The Three Count: General Takeaways

  1. Yes, wrestling matches without crowds are still weird, and there’s no way around that. Some wrestlers continue to play off of an absent audience, which always feels odd. The most meaningful matches will feel less significant without the crowd’s reactions, and we just have to accept that.
  2. Your mileage may vary with Rob Gronkowski’s role in the show. For someone who hasn’t been on board with Gronk’s WWE career, his involvement was fairly limited on Saturday. He and Mojo Rawley hyped up each other, and the show, early on. But other than a brief 24/7 Championship segment, Gronk wasn’t on the screen much.
  3. Aside from some extra lengthy video packages, this show flowed fairly well. Two three-hour installments of WrestleMania is a lot easier to digest than one show that’s over seven hours long. The addition of a few interviews and commercials made Saturday’s offering a pleasant viewing experience and I hope WWE keeps this two-night format going forward. Sunday’s installment features several of the show’s marquee matches, so we can’t fully evaluate WrestleMania 36 yet. But, on its own, though Part 1 included some missteps, it was a success; the Boneyard Match was phenomenal and several of the matches were worthy of WrestleMania.

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