Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed WrestleMania weekend. This is the first time that I have written a column in eight months, which is very odd to say. I was quite content just being a fan, loving AEW and New Japan and finding a quiet respect for what WWE has become, but COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, WrestleMania morphed from an event I might watch the week after it aired to something I viscerally needed watch live on Night 1 at least. For many years, WWE was my greatest escape. Then, my relationship with it soured. WrestleMania 36 healed some old wounds, which I wrote about more extensively at www.escapetosportsentertainment.com, my new blog that I sporadically maintain for various forms of extra-curricular writing.
Twitter was a casualty of my desire to return to a less avid state of wrestling fandom, so I wanted to share my WrestleMania match thoughts and ratings here and gauge how my LOP family processed this year’s very unique Showcase of the Immortals.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What did you think of WrestleMania 36 and what was your favorite match?
The following is a ranking of my favorite matches:
8. The Kabuki Warriors vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross for the Women’s Tag Titles – A bold choice for the Night 1 opener that I went into with zero expectations, the match for the seldom recipient of creative focus championships was a surprising treat. The opener of WrestleMania is an honor not to be taken lightly, setting the tone as it does for the rest of the event. All four women seemed to fully acknowledge the chance given. Big picture wise, that both nights opened with strong to outstanding women’s matches is the kind of revolutionary occurrence that many of us long-time fans could never have dreamed of for the fairer sex in WWE. This was a genuinely good tag team match that elevated the profiles of each combatant and the championships. (Doc’s Rating – *** ¼)
7. Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Bazsler for the Raw Women’s Title – Definitely not what I thought it would be. I think it would now be challenging to call Shayna’s ascent to the main roster during Mania Season uber successful, but they delivered an act–ion-packed, dramatic sub-ten-minute bout that may go down as one of the better sub-ten-minute matches in quite some time after a few rewatches. I find it odd that Becky, unquestionably one of the Top 5 acts in WWE since the summer of 2018, got snubbed for a true showcase opportunity to enhance her legacy, though I suppose that is not an unusual thing for top stars of the modern era, in general. With Becky’s long title reign and Shayna’s NXT reputation, this should have been a classic that followed and built on Shayna’s tried and true in-ring formula. That it was just really good strikes me as slightly underwhelming. Focusing on the positive, they made excellent use of not much time. (Doc’s Rating – *** ½)
6. Edge vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match – One of the more engaging storylines in a couple of years from WWE lent this match a golden opportunity to succeed, and mid-way through the performance I was struggling with the idea of whether or not they were closer to completely dropping the ball than hitting a homerun. By the emotional conclusion, I was more of the opinion that they had done the best that they could with unusual circumstances and that they had produced something very good for what it was. I was unsurprised by the dismal ratings, however, that I have seen from the masses. Its 36-minute run-time made the match feel closer to an hour. That said, I appreciated the unique approach and the storyline carried enough weight with me that the style ultimately did not prove unsatisfactory to my viewing tastes. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad that I did watch it and I look forward to seeing Edge’s creativity on display in a more standard setting soon. Not the snoozefest that many have claimed it to be, in my opinion, but not a smash hit either. (Doc’s Rating – *** ½)
5. Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens – As a Rollins guy, his budding Mania legacy puts each of his opportunities at the top of my must-watch list come The Show of Shows. For him, this reminded me of the featured mid-card matches that the likes of Chris Jericho and Randy Orton have earned in the past. He and Owens had a heck of a match, in my opinion. Their previously established chemistry shown through before settling into what I assume will be the polarizing climax into the DQ finish and restart. Years ago, I would have disliked the restart, but at this point in my fandom, getting to see their story continue after what would have been a colossally disappointing ending straight out of the 1980s ramped up my night-of enthusiasm and made the eventual, definitive finish far more satisfying. Both guys came out of this with their Mania legacies enhanced. (Doc’s Rating – *** ¾)
4. John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse Match – Dude. Sweet. That could be all I say about it. I loved it. This was the kind of experience that rewarded paying attention so closely over the years, and that kind of experience being offered on the WWE platform is increasingly rare. I would love to interview the minds behind this “match.” I showed it to my wife just because I wanted her to see the concept of cinematic wrestling in action. I genuinely hope that we see more of it in the future, while being cognizant of the fact that WrestleMania in its typical format (ditto for other WWE PPVs) is not likely the best host. Find a way, WWE. Cinematic wrestling is a genre worth cultivating, and I would like to see its depths further explored. Anyhow, Wyatt was fantastic in his role. Cena was quite good. Someday, a deep dive into this experience would be a fun project. The entire thing was wrestling on LSD. (Doc’s Rating – ****)
3. Kofi Kingston vs. John Morrison vs. Jimmy Uso in a Ladder Match for the Tag Team Titles – I’m a broken record on this topic, but the frequency of Ladder Matches in the stunt brawl category has made it very difficult to create memorable versions; there are only so many spots to be innovated, and many of them end up looking quite similar accordingly. There are rare exceptions, though, and I believe this to have been one of them. The lack of a crowd, on the surface, would mightily hinder a match predicated on cheaper thrills from an audience, but these three rose to the occasion, pulled off some really impressive sequences, and concluded with a bang, largely rendering the audiencelessness a moot point. Legacy matters to me, so I feel it pertinent to comment on Kofi having two great starring performances in a row at WrestleMania and on this Ladder Match ranking right up there with Money in the Bank IV and V among the second tier, 4-star level iterations of the gimmick in Mania lore. (Doc’s Rating – ****)
2. Rhea Rhipley vs. Charlotte Flair for the NXT Women’s Title – By conventional standards, this was easily the match of the weekend. Dramatic, hard-hitting, and characterful, this was the kind of match that defines WrestleMania in my opinion. A made-woman with a well-established track record on big stages against as close a bet to join the top-tier of the women’s division for years to come, herself a proven in-ring commodity. For my money, it rarely gets better than that on the Mania stage. Both Charlotte and Rhea have previously proven adept at acting and using physical selling and verbal dialogue to enhance their in-ring storytelling, so I thought their match more than any other at WrestleMania made the lack of a crowd a virtual non-factor. The best match now at three of the last five WrestleManias makes it logical to start discussing Charlotte among the Top 50 wrestlers of the ‘Mania Era. Name five better resumes in the past five years. Rhipley’s loss has the potential to set-up an even bigger moment in her career down the road; it’s all about the follow-up for her. Tremendous work from both. (Doc’s Rating – **** ¼)
1. AJ Styles vs. The Undertaker in a Boneyard Match – Surely the biggest winner of the weekend was the cinematic wrestling genre, right? Difficult to rate and odd to watch and digest since we are so collectively unaccustomed to them as they may be, cinematic wrestling matches in the vein of the Final Deletion from Matt Hardy’s mind were taken to a new level at WrestleMania 36, beginning with Night 1’s main-event. I thought it was brilliant, the Boneyard Match aka the new take on the Buried Alive concept. Undertaker said in the preview of his upcoming “Last Ride” documentary series that he did not want to become a parody of himself; I think he has mostly done just that in recent years. This cinematic experience played to his strengths and made him look the best he has in years. Undertaker would do well to bow out now, because I cannot imagine it getting better for him. To go out on a high note, perhaps popularizing a new style of wrestling in arguably the most talked about match at WrestleMania 36, would be a fitting end to his career after five years of mostly high profile flops. He deserves to go out with a bang, and the Boneyard Match was a banger. Kudos to AJ Styles, by the way, whose acting chops equaled Taker’s and helped the whole ordeal come off so well; I was not expecting Styles to have a legacy-enhancing night at Mania this year. Shout out to the production team, too, along with whoever directed this. (Doc’s Rating – **** ½)