SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The WWE wrestling card that is “Too Big for Just One Night.” That is what WrestleMania 36 is being billed as. Spanning two nights, WrestleMania 36 will very likely be the most unique WrestleMania for years to come. Being held in the midst of a global pandemic of the virus SARS-CoV-2, referred to as COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, the event will feature matches recorded at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando Florida, with other matches taped from other locations, although at this time, it’s unclear what that means.
Due to the circumstances around the time of the event, several matches have not received the buildup they normally would (and in the case of Lashley vs. Black, none at all). This has had the unintended consequence of a handful of matches seeming just that more special/important. (Some may wonder that if that is the case, why would all the other superfluous matches be needed, but that is a discussion for another day.)
All that said, I’m looking forward to how this WrestleMania will compare to its predecessors and how it will be viewed historically.
Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre – WWE Men’s Championship Match
Story in a nutshell: Once billed as being the next big thing before washing out of the WWE, A ready, reinvigorated, refocused™ Drew McIntyre faces off against the Beast, the Conqueror, Brock Lesnar, in a bid to complete his quest to become the WWE Champion.
Drew McIntyre won the 2020 Men’s Royal Rumble match earning himself a shot at the title at WrestleMania, eliminating a most dominant Brock Lesnar in the process with a Claymore kick. Choosing Brock as his opponent, the story of the match centers around Drew’s Claymore Kick’s efficacy in an actual match, after using it to successfully defend himself against Brock on Raw.
Prediction: I’m ordering these entries based on how interested I am in the given match, and this one has me asking the most questions. Originally it was a no brainer, Drew McIntire completes his quest, slaying the conquering Beast Incarnate. I had the Final Fantasy victory music queued up and ready to go. But do you give Drew his crowning achievement in front of an empty arena with no fans in attendance to cheer him on? Does Lesnar win so you can put off that moment until later, or do you do a screwy finish? Do you run with Lesnar as an absentee champion for as long as this quarantine lasts (barring filming weeks of segments at once for airing for weeks later)? My gut feeling… pull off the Band-Aid, give Drew the championship, and chart a new course for the company with Drew as your top guy.
Edge vs. Randy Orton – Last Man Standing Match
Story in a nutshell: After triumphantly returning from retirement at Royal Rumble 2020, Edge seeks revenge against Randy Orton, the man who nearly crippled him, all in the name of some perverse idea of love.
On the Raw following the Royal Rumble, as Edge addressed the crowd, Randy Orton came out, presumably to join Edge in celebrating the moment. Instead, staying true to his sobriquet, The Viper, Randy Orton struck and attempted to cripple Edge, all in the name of sparing Edge’s family the pain of watching Edge return to wrestling. Weeks later, Beth Phoenix, Edge’s wife, came out to essentially declare Edge would be going back into retirement, but before she could finish the declaration, Randy took her out too. Now an incensed Edge wants to end Randy at WrestleMania in a Last Man Standing Match.
Prediction: If Randy wins, then people’s perceptions of Vince McMahon being the actual Devil will be proven true. Edge will win, with some involvement from Beth Phoenix. Due to the stipulations of the match, I hope to see a sprawling brawl that takes advantage of their location.
John Cena vs. The Fiend – Firefly Funhouse Match
Story in a nutshell: Bray Wyatt blames John Cena for the trajectory his career took after suffering defeat at Cena’s hands at WrestleMania XXX, the precipitating events that eventually led to the creation of “The Fiend”, and now seeks revenge (justice?).
There are two narratives going in parallels here. In kayfabe, after losing to John Cena at WrestleMania XXX, Bray Wyatt was so shaken that it damaged his faith in himself, leading to a progression of losses, and filling him with self-loathing and resentment until he created a cipher he can hide behind where he can act out with impunity. This cipher, The Fiend, has challenged Cena to a rematch at WrestleMania 36 to avenge himself. Cena, who was planning on stepping aside to let the light shine on younger talent with bright futures, accepted in order to end the blight of Bray Wyatt, an underachiever who blames his shortcomings on others, to pave the way for the future. That Cena… what a guy.
The second narrative comes from a work-shoot meta place. Bray Wyatt, the wrestler, has been booked poorly though out his career, always talking a big game to drive interest in a match but falling short even in matches where, narratively, it would have made more sense for him to win. In this narrative, whether The Fiend is part of some sort of dissociative psychotic break, or a mask he wears as a totem of his frustrations of his lot in the WWE, is beside the point; The Fiend is an agent for Wyatt to right the wrongs of previous failures, finally coming to the instigator of all of this, the first domino in the story of his fall, John Cena… WWE’s golden child.
Prediction: This is Bray Wyatt’s narrative, where the villain is the protagonist and the faces are the antagonists. This needs to be his moment of glory, where he overcomes the last failure of his past. Then once he is unfettered by his burden, he can find out how empty and hollow vengeance is leading to either a moment of self-reflection and a face turn, or a decent into madness and rage once he realizes his despair still remains despite being untethered to his personal bogeyman, turning him into a heel antagonist for some idealistic young face. So yeah, The Fiend wins in a special effects laden match, else Bray Wyatt’s already shaky credibility will forever be shattered.
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Story in a nutshell: The Monday Night Messiah, Seth Rollins, seeks to remake Raw into a vision of what he believes Raw should be, which “coincidentally” includes everyone on the roster appreciating his greatness. Kevin Owens is having none it and seeks to shut him down.
Seth Rollins is a douche. He is a douche on social media. He sounds like a douche in his promos. He looks like a douche in his attire. If you look up douche on Urban Dictionary, there will be a picture of Seth Rollins. I’m sure Colby Lopez might probably be a great guy in real life, but my perception of the Seth Rollins character is that he’s a Grade A, certifiable, blue check marked, prime cut, douche. After the Fiend, in an act of selflessness, exposed Seth for what he truly is, Seth has been lashing out at those he feels don’t give him the respect he is entitled to. Enter Kevin Owens. I’m going to skip over all the stuff with AOP, Buddy Murphy, the Viking Raiders, Street Profits, Samoa Joe, Aleister Black (holy crap did this become an unwieldy cast, no wonder the angle lost momentum) as they are mostly superfluous to the build of the match. I’m even going to skip over the content of their back and forth promos, in the end the story here is that Seth Rollins represents the elite and all the negative aspects that come with that, and Kevin Owens is the working man looking to put Rollins in his place.
Prediction: Seth wins, but not because of the perception that Vince McMahon would side with the elite, but because Drew McIntyre, my predicted champion, can also play the role of the working man’s wrestler and Drew’s story, that a fallen elite, that learned to work, then returned and became champion dovetails nicely into Seth Rollin’s elitism. I also wouldn’t be surprised if a returning Samoa Joe costs KO the match (If you can justify bringing in Joe in the current climate), leading to a feud between the two.
Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler – WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Story in a nutshell: Is Becky Lynch, who recently overcame the one challenger she couldn’t defeat, ready to face her next test in the form of a wrestler the likes she hasn’t ever seen before, in Shayna Baszler?
Shayna Baszler officially debuted on Raw by literally taking a piece of the champion Becky Lynch. Then Baszler, was paradoxically given a spot in the elimination chamber to win the opportunity to face Becky at WrestleMania. Baszler succeeded by being the first competitor to eliminate all the participants in the match. Since then, the build has been mostly straight forward with promos and sneak attacks being bandied back and forth. However, over on social media, when asked about the bite, Baszler responded by calling herself a Khornite Berserker. For the uninitiated, Khorne is the demon of war, hatred, blood, and murder in the Warhammer Dark Fantasy/Sci-Fi Universe. Followers of Khorne honor their god by spilling blood and spreading destruction. Baszler, in her promos about only wanting to destroy, alludes to this. Most wrestlers fight for money, honor, glory, fame, but Baszler fights for destruction. She is an oncoming storm and an existential threat to the Raw women’s division if she gets her way.
Prediction: I’m thinking Baszler needs to win and win big. She needs to be presented as an impassable obstacle for Becky. I’m thinking Cena/Lesnar here. Baszler can then dominate the face half of the women’s division while Becky climbs back up by facing all the heels before crossing paths with Baszler again. Becky has been exhibiting some signs of hubris since defeating Asuka so that can serve as her downfall.
Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler
Story in a nutshell: Can Otis defend Mandy Rose’s besmirched honor after finding out that Sonya Deville has been helping Dolph Ziggler manipulate her affections?
Otis has been pining for Mandy Rose, and to his surprise, she seemed receptive. Enter Dolph Ziggler who felt entitled to Mandy’s affection. Otis and Mandy set up a Valentine’s Day date, which was sabotaged by Sonya in order to give Dolph an “in” (for reasons unknown at this time). All this came to light when the mysterious hacker finally reveal him/herself, by releasing this information to the parties involved.
Prediction: Seth Rollins may be a douche, but Dolph Ziggler is a straight up dick in this story, and there is no way he can win this else there is no justice in this world. Go get him Otis.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
Story in a nutshell: …
So, this match was announced and there is no build to it, so why do I have it so high? This is one of the very few times I’m interested in a WWE match because of the contrast in styles. When I watch New Japan Pro Wrestling, I am intrigued by the different styles and how they match up, like the difference in having a submission specialist fighting a striker versus fighting a powerhouse. The WWE styles is so boiler plate and cookie cutter, that while they may say a wrestler is a submission specialist or one is a striker, at the end of the day, they are the same wrestler with 3 different moves. Black and Lashley are different enough where their style mismatch might make for an intriguing match.
Prediction: Black Mass for the win. I can only hope this is an actual match and not a one hitter quitter, over in less time that it took you to read this.
Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair – NXT Women’s Championship Match
Story in a nutshell: Charlotte Flair, winner of the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble match, goes back to her roots and challenges hot up and comer Rhea Ripley for her NXT Championship.
Charlotte Flair surprises the world (or a few people at least) by challenging Rhea Ripley instead of Becky (which makes it look a bit like she’s ducking her rival to be honest) or Bailey. Along the way, Flair faced off against Ripley’s contemporaries and their promos have been some pretty standard stuff, with some references to the similarities between the two women.
Prediction: My interest level in this one fell dramatically thanks to the current circumstances. Of the people involved in this WrestleMania, Rhea and Drew are the two I feel most sorry for since this show seemed earmarked to be crowning moments in both of their careers. I don’t think Charlotte becomes NXT women’s champion so I’m going with Rhea Ripley.
Sami Zayn vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Intercontinental Championship Match
Story in a nutshell: Can Drew Gulak coach(?) Daniel Bryan to a championship against Sami Zayne? Will Drew keep his first name when Vince McMahon realizes there are two “Drews” on the show?
After weeks of criticizing Daniel Bryans style, Drew Gulak finally faced him in a match and while Drew lost, he exposed some flaws in Bryan game, uniting the two in the common cause of wrestling. Enter the obnoxious Sami Zayne being, well, obnoxious. Their confrontations lead to Drew beating Shinsuke with Bryan’s help to win Bryan a shot at Zayne’s Intercontinental Championship.
Prediction: I only care about this match for the off chance that the limiters are taken off of these two otherwise spectacular wrestlers and we get a match of the year contender. I don’t know how much of that is possible with an otherwise crowded ringside, but here’s to hoping. Bryan wins.
The Kabuki Warriors vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross – WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
Story in a nutshell: Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane defend their championships against Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
Been a while since the Kabuki Warriors championships have been in play with the Becky/Asuka feud taking precedent. It took Bliss challenging them to heat up that championship again. Some sneak attacks and promos, bog standard stuff and a… wait a minute. WTF? A clean as a whistle win by Bliss over Asuka? Well, that’s one way to make Bliss seem credible and to be honest, she is one of their most marketable women so they should build her up, so I get it.
Prediction: I think the WWE is tired of having the belt on the Kabuki Warriors so Bliss and Cross win to breathe new life into the titles.
Elias vs. King Corbin
Story in a nutshell: After surviving certain death or crippling injury after being dropped from a balcony by King Corbin, Elias tries to get revenge by beating him in a match.
For weeks, traveling minstrel Elias has been trying to serenade King Corbin with an insulting ditty. King Corbin did the only reasonable thing and dropped him off a balcony. Folks, this is the eleventh entry and I’ve got five more to go and am getting a bit exhausted. If you made it this far, congrats. Things might start to get a bit weird.
Prediction: Todd Martin’s performance be amazing when discussing this match after WrestleMania as this may be a waking nightmare for him. King Corbin wins.
Undertaker vs. A.J. Styles – Boneyard Match
Story in a nutshell: Mark William Calaway defends his wife’s honor after Allen Neal Jones claims that the only reason Mark is still dressing up as the Undertaker despite being OLD is because Michelle McCool is a gold digger.
After embarrassing Allen Jones multiple times, Jones decided to make things personal with Mark Calaway by bringing Mark’s wife into the proceedings. Some back and forth ensued with both men shredding the last vestiges of the Undertaker mystique, which was the point, to an extent, to humanize the Undertaker, but the way this was handled only served to diminish and emasculate the Undertaker character. What is most frustrating is that the story of a fading legend is one of the most compelling you can tell as shown in movies like Unforgiven, Logan, and the Rocky Balboa and Creed movies, but you only ever get one shot at it, and while both men proved they can still deliver on the mic, the content itself has been abysmal.
Prediction: This is going to be a highly edited fight in what I can only presume will be a cemetery or graveyard of sorts, probably Blair Witch-style shaky cam and the like, to protect Taker. I fully expect Michelle McCool to interfere costing AJ the match.
Bayley vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina – WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match
Story in a nutshell: Bayley defends her championship against pretty much the entire SmackDown women’s roster, including her best friend, Sasha Banks
Paige, who is apparently “in” with the bosses at FOX set up this match. The only two women that matter in this match are Bayley and Sasha Banks (sorry for the fans of the other women, I myself am a Lacey fan). Ever since the match was announced there has been a sense of wary between these two whenever the subject of the women’s championship has come up. They’ve done a good job with the subtle expressions when they are together.
Prediction: Sasha wins but she never pins Bayley, so she has plausible deniability when she wins. I think there will be a moment in the match when Bayley is being pinned and Sasha fails to make the save, purposely or not, and this will cause friction between the two down the road, once roles are reversed. This could lead to some good storytelling down the road.
The Street Profits vs. Austin Theory & Angel Garza – WWE Raw Tag Team Championship Match
Story in a nutshell: Street Profits defend their titles against the slapped together team of Angel Garza and Austin Theory.
Not much build to this match either (so why is it on the card???) especially since Austin Theory is a late replacement for an injured Andrade. Sadly, my hopes for some sort of four way with Mysterio, Andrade, Angel Garza, and Carillo in a (probable) conclusion to my favorite WWE story this year, have gone up in smoke. There’s the smoke you asked for, Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford, sigh.
Prediction: All kidding aside, there are four talented individuals that’ll make for an entertaining match. There is no reason for the Profits to lose here.
Triple Threat Ladder match for the WWE Smackdown Men’s Tag Team Championship
Story in a nutshell: …is in flux.
This was originally supposed to be a ladder match between The Miz & John Morrison, The New Day, and The Usos, but The Miz was pulled for medical reasons so the rumor is that one member of each team will participate in the match instead. The Usos and The New Day, had renewed their rivalry to determine the next challenger to Miz and Morrison’s championship, but the Miz and Morrison interfered in the match. Predictably, the the New Day and the Usos both get a shot in a three-way match.
Prediction: The Usos win.
Bill Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman – WWE Men’s Universal Championship
Story in a nutshell:
Returning from Saudi Arabia as the Universal Champion, Bill Goldberg asked “who’s next?” Roman Reigns answered. For weeks they promoted this match as a dream meeting between two superstars in a battle of spear vs. spear. Then, on the go-home SmackDown episode, we get an insert with Strowman inexplicably replacing Roman Reign, with absolutely no explanation from Michael Cole (Reigns pulled out of the match due to having his health at risk, being immunocompromised because of his bouts with leukemia which makes him more susceptible to COVID-19.)
Prediction: Origianlly much higher on this list due to a perverse interest in watching Reigns and Goldberg being booed out a stadium, my interest waned when WrestleMania was moved to the Performance Center with no crowd, ultimately cratering when Braun Strowman replaces Reigns in the match. But, this will be to Strowman’s fortune as I think he wins.