They say necessity is the mother invention. Translated into Wrestlemania 36, this means grabbing a chair, taking fights outside the squared circle, and diving head-first into the madness of the WWE’s more supernatural aspects.
This year’s largest sports entertainment event aimed at hitting every exposed nerve the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare by offering a showcase of ass kicking worthy of remembrance. Wrestlemania 36 is one for the history books, and I don’t say this lightly. Performing to the backdrop of empty seats—purposefully lighted to make sure everyone knows what the situation is—takes guts and the WWE stepped up to the plate with innovation and emotion to spare.
Wrestlemania 36 was split up into two days (for the first time ever), from April 4-5, and took place in the WWE Performance Center along with specialty matches recorded in outside locations. The latter is where the show truly shined. It allowed for what Stephanie McMahon rightfully called “the most different of all [Wrestlemanias].”
I will be focusing on some of the matches I thought deserve a closer look due to the things they accomplished. Wrestlemania 36 was, above all, unique and it deserves to be watched in its entirety. I highly recommend finding a way to do so, and I will try to not spoil too much for each match (although some things just require mention, so proceed with caution).
A quick thing I believe is worth mentioning. Watching these wrestlers fight without spectators, without the boos and the cheers, has been nothing short of spectacular. It really encompasses the absolute fact that to be a wrestler means to be a great performer. A great actor, a great actress. I’ve never been as appreciative of this as I was watching Wrestlemania 36.
Charlotte Flair strips the NXT championship from Rhea Ripley
I’m tempted to call this the match of the night just because of the sheer skill these wrestlers showcased in front of an absent audience. But then I remembered the Boneyard Match and, well, we’ll get there.
The WWE has been presenting audience-less matches for a while now, but to do it on the Wrestlemania stage adds an additional layer of expectation. Flair and Rhea met this head on fully knowing every scream, chop, Flair WOOO, and slam would echo throughout the arena without any feedback. While we got to really appreciate just how much energy the audience brings to the experience, we also got to recognize how much work goes into making the wrestling spectacle shine in the ring.
Flair and Rhea never let up providing banter and selling hard hits on the ring. Flair worked Rhea’s knee to set up her own spin on the Figure Four leglock her father made famous while Rhea did a hell of a job selling the pain that came from every hit she took on that knee.
And then came the thunderous sound of Charlotte Flair’s chops. Each one hit with the force of freight train and I think Rhea was left out of breath after a few of them. Charlotte didn’t overstay the chops’ welcome though. Playing up the arrogance associated with the Flair name, Charlotte persisted in calling out Rhea as an unimpressive champion throughout the match.
Rhea put up a good fight, though, selling the animosity between them. She made it a point to beat down on Charlotte despite the knee and to let everyone know about it. In the end, Charlotte had just done too much damage and ended up beating Rhea into submission to become the new NXT champion.
This was a great match that never let up and gave both wrestlers a lot to be proud of when it comes to remembering the best matches of the two-day lineup for Wrestlemania 36.
John Cena steps into The Fiend’s mind in the Firefly Fun House Match
This match should go down as one of the most gratuitously unsettling but entertaining battles of all time. John Cena fights “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a kind of kids game show world complete with a Devil Vince McMahon puppet (with horns!) and a dark stroll down memory lane through Cena’s career.
The fantasy horror world The Fiend created for Cena looks like it came straight out of Candle Cove from SYFY’s Channel Zero series. But that’s just the setup for what is a complete deconstruction of Cena’s career, in all aspects.
Wyatt uses all of the powers he’s claimed to have over the course of his Fiend run and warps reality to take Cena through different eras of WWE’s and WCW’s history, all just to show him why he’s been both loved and hated as a wrestler.
We get a segment where Wyatt and Cena reenact 1980’s promos, channeling Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage’s explosive showcases of physicality in front of the camera. It’s as if Wyatt wants Cena to understand how he went from hero to villain. Here we get Cena the hero.
From there it transitions into the NWO era where Cena is put in the shoes of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, the hero turned bad. Wyatt gets in close to force Cena to see where and how the hatred started and why he kept on betraying his own image.
By the end, Wyatt wins the match, but it was never about winning or losing. It was about torturing John Cena. It was impossible to look away. The WWE embraced the darkness here and I hope they continue expanding into the dark fantasy they got on tape. It makes for great TV.
Also, somebody better get that Vince McMahon puppet mass produced. I want to put one next to Baby Yoda.
The Undertaker takes AJ Styles to the Boneyard and then buries him
Here it is, the best match of Wrestlemania 36. This was more a complete wrestling movie-like production that I believe will stand the tests of time as one of the top 5 best wrestling matches in Wrestlemania history.
AJ Styles comes out of a casket to meet the Undertaker, who rides into the scene to the tune of Metallica. ‘Taker carries the entirety of his legend on his back. AJ Styles approaches the match with no respect afforded to The Phenom. What we’re treated with is a horror fantasy match that turns the ‘Buried Alive’ Match on its head for a spectacular finish that throws realism out the window (and then runs it over with a truck that came straight out of Hell).
Being in an outside location made this match really breathe in the horror movie feel it was clearly going for. A misty graveyard setting surrounded by abandoned buildings colored the match. AJ Styles and Undertaker sold their feud to perfection going with every ounce of aggression at each other while exploring the entire area.
A druid army came in halfway for a surprise attack against Undertaker. The Phenom disposed of them like they were nothing while fending of another sneak attack from Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Piledrivers and chokeslams ensued, buildings were torn apart, and AJ Styles got buried in spectacular fashion as the Undertaker unleashed his supernatural powers to teleport behind him.
The Undertaker looked great, as if in peak shape. AJ Styles played the villain with finesse and made rooting for ‘Taker all the more rewarding. The lights, the camera angles, the music, and the editing made everything seem like a supernatural extravaganza that further cemented The Undertaker’s already impressive legacy.
The myth became real in this match, literally. The Boneyard Match is just another example as to why the WWE should continue playing with horror and fantasy in their regular programming. A match for the ages.
Honorable mention: Edge vs. Randy Orton
This match also took place in the WWE Performance Center but it quickly spilled out of the ring and into the backstage area. The brawl itself played out like a WWE video game, with any and all items used as weapons. It felt a bit too orchestrated at times, but there were some great moments, like when Edge climbed over the ceiling in an office room to elbow drop Orton. Edge got RKO’ed to great effect but Edge pulled out the win in an emotionally charged finale that made me glad to see Edge back in action. A fun match that gleefully went behind the scenes for some pure wrestling carnage.
I don’t know what Wrestlemania 36 will mean for future editions. The things we were treated to here will definitely be difficult to top. I wouldn’t mind more of these movie-like matches in outside locations, although a lot of this came out of the fact fans weren’t in their seats due to the pandemic. The future, though, is looking intriguing. Ground was broken. I for one left Wrestlemania 36 feeling glad to be a wrestling fan. I’m sure many felt the same way.