Previously on the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 36: I gave the Firefly Fun House match its own column, because I needed to write 4,000 words to understand it. You can also read about night one, and the night that the skeletons came to life, here.
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Here’s a special, one-match breakdown edition of the Best and Worst of WWE WrestleMania 36 (2 of 2) for April 5, 2020.
Before We Begin
As mentioned in the intro that you probably breezed through, we decided to give the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt its own, full length edition of Best and Worst. I got about 2,000 words into it and realized it’d be a hell of a thing to drop in the middle of jokes about Liv Morgan’s catch-as-catch-can skills and Randy Orton taking three and a half minutes to throw a punch. I definitely recommend you give it a read, though, as I did my best to break down the most ambitious and complex character work WWE’s ever done. It’s not a “good match,” and it’s not even the wacky and enjoyable experience of the Boneyard Match, but it feels essential to the product.
I apologize in advance that the rest of the WrestleMania night two recap isn’t going to be that meticulous.
Best: Charlotte Flair Is Low Key One Of The Best WrestleMania Performers Of The Last Decade
Leave it up to Charlotte Flair, with all her perceived flaws and frustrating idiosyncrasies, to once again walk into a difficult position at a WrestleMania and not only do validate her “I MAKE HISTORY” talking points, but deliver one of the best performances of the night. Of the weekend. You know what I’m saying. She’s been doing that for years now, and I’d argue that over the past five WrestleManias (32 through 36) she’s been one of WWE’s best and most reliable big match performers.
Flair vs. Rhea Ripley — wearing Vegeta-themed gear and joining New Day on the list of people who dressed up like Dragon Ball character at WrestleMania and lost — works well in juxtaposition from two other women’s matches on the WrestleMania card: the Kickoff Show’s Liv Morgan versus Natalya match, and Saturday’s Raw Women’s Championship match between Shayna Baszler and Becky Lynch. I thought it was a really interesting choice to run Liv and Natalya on the pre-show and then go straight into Charlotte and Rhea, as it emphasized the clear as day distinction between competence and excellence. I guess that’s why two of these people had a “history making” championship match with months of build bolstered by a Royal Rumble win with emotional video packages and a marquee spot on the show, and the other was announced on a whim on Saturday afternoon.
The more interesting comparison is between this match and Lynch vs. Baszler, as Becky Lynch is the John Cena to Charlotte Flair’s Randy Orton, and Ripley had one of the best NXT Women’s Championshp matches in history with Baszler only a few months ago. Baszler and Lynch got eight minutes, while Ripley and Flair got 20. Different spots on different nights, I guess, but it’s an interesting comparison nonetheless. Makes you wonder how much the construction and presentation of the matches had to do with WWE’s interest in Ripley and Baszler as performers and characters.
It’s also probably impossible to discuss this match without talking about the decisions around it. The assumption is that Flair won the championship here so she can spend a few months working Wednesdays, and help NXT’s ratings on USA. But there’s also the fun side story with her being a complete prick to Bianca Belair, which will hopefully build to Belair K’ing the O-D out of her at SummerSlam in August. Belair showing up later on this same show made me think that’s an even more likely possibility. Anyway, the point is that Flair and Ripley killed it, Ripley’s future is as bright as ever, and Charlotte’s horrible ass of a character is going to make NXT shows better, if only by increasing how badly we want to see the entire NXT women’s roster put her in a figurative body bag. Very excited for Io Shirai to show her what a moonsault’s supposed to look like.
Surprisingly Good: Bobby Lashley Loses At Dark Souls
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley was about as good as it could be for a match between two characters who’ve never met or interacted, wrestling in an empty building. Like I said before, it’s very much like of those old pay-per-view matches featuring mid-carders you stumble onto and have no idea why it’s happening. I don’t think the two guys HAVING the match knew why it was happening. There’s the flimsy pretense of Aleister Black “wanting competition,” I guess, which probably would’ve been a better angle if he hadn’t gotten dunked on by AJ Styles for a couple of weeks early last month, and hadn’t only won the rematch via divine (Satanic) intervention.
Still, credit to the guys for having a pretty good Raw match in quarantine. I didn’t like the finish, though, as Lana getting up onto the apron to cause a distraction that ultimately led to her man losing the match is ostensibly the same finish they used in the very next match, with Sonya Deville getting up onto the apron to cause a distraction that ultimately led to her man losing the match. Maybe they should’ve put these on different nights, so you wouldn’t notice how similar they were? It worked for Braun vs. Goldberg and Lesnar vs. McIntyre, after all.
Best, I Guess: True Love Weights
So yeah, Sonya (who is super invested in Mandy Rose dating this specific co-worker instead of the other one, because vague reasons we’ll probably never explore) is now not only managing Dolph Ziggler and accompanying him to the ring, but getting up onto the apron to make sure he wins matches against a nice fat guy they both hate. Things look bleak for poor Otis without even so much as a Tucky to back him up, but out comes Mandy (sadly not in sweat pants and a big graphic tee from Walmart) to even the score. The most disappointing thing about this entire night of WrestleMania, I think, is that we missed out on the monster pop Mandy and Otis’ retaliation and pairing would’ve gotten from a live crowd. Folks would’ve been all,
As is, Otis ends that classic American story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl due to the secret machinations of girl’s gay best friend and an asshole cheerleader they know, girl finds out thanks to help from an unidentified hacker who gained access to their work gym’s video screen, girl helps boy win a WrestleMania match, boy gets girl. Boy carries girl off like at the end of An Officer And A Gentleman, which is a cute callback to how boy briefly prevented girl from being eliminated from a battle royal.
Sorry, Worst: Last Man Standing
This is going to be a divisive one.
I want to say before anything that I like what these guys put together as a concept. The build was great, and I like the idea of Edge having to go to some big extreme to put Orton down only to immediately reveal how sad it makes him that he had to do it. Orton claiming to “love” Edge and saying love’s why he had to hurt him without showing any human emotion or remorse contrasts really well with Edge outright hating Orton, but hurting him and revealing that he feels this hate because of how much he loves him. I also think Edge is a good actor, and that Orton can be good when he tries.
But man, this did not have to be 40 minutes long. They were already doing that thing WWE does where their conceptualization of “hatred” is two guys kinda punching each other and throwing each other into things while they walk around and try out props. It’s not hatred as much as it’s … I don’t know, violent tourism? I know a lot of people really like this kind of match so I can’t really shade it for giving people what they want, but it didn’t work like I wanted it. Add to that the fact that the Last Man Standing mach is actually one of my least favorite match types ever, as it’s always a 15 minute match that takes 30 because half of it is the referee loudly counting to 8 or 9, and it felt less like a grudge match and more like an interminable walkabout. Like, if you hate a man for attacking your wife and trying to paralyze you to take away the career you spent nine years working to get back, why are you doing spider-crawls along lighting fixtures to drop elbows on him? Who does that? Why are you guys comically fighting with gym equipment and basically just doing CrossFit at each other? At one point in the match Edge uses a pull-up bar to do a big Bronco Buster. It’s just not the right tone for what you set up. Not that I can expect you to have a bloody southern empty arena brawl during quarantine or whatever, but still.
I actually had to mute the majority of the match due to the combination of the referee using his full, project-to-the-back-of-the-building REFEREE VOICE to count to ten, completely with that little bend over and stand back up and throw up your hands gesture, and the announce team mumbling about what they’re seeing in the lowest volume possible. Honestly, if this had just been a no disqualification match and gone 15 minutes, it would’ve been brilliant. The shorter matches really helped night one of Mania move at a much better pace than night two.
It was funny to see the backstage areas from WWE video games finally get used in a real wresting match, though. They fought in the hallway, in Goldberg’s pretend dressing room from the night before that’s actually a conference room, in the lighted area where they film promos, and even on top of cars. Just doing their signature moves to each other on the tops of cars. They go up onto the production truck for the finish, and I swear I thought Orton was going to climb up that really tall ladder nearby and Edge was gonna run and leap off the truck and spear him off, or whatever. Instead they just did more signature moves up there and Edge won with a Conchairto, which hurt more on top of a truck the same way submission moves hurt more when you do them on a table.
All in all, again, I get and don’t hate what they were going for, and it’s great to see Edge back. But Randy Orton pay-per-view matches are Randy Orton pay-per-view matches, no matter what. The payoff is never going to be as good as the build. He’s “the journey, not the destination” of professional wrestlers.
Speaking Of Contrived Spots That Were Supposed To Look Organic
Here’s the 24/7 division naturally fighting out into the gym and running over to stand and brawl under the Cathy Kelley Memorial Juliet Balcony so Rob Gronkowski could jump onto them and win the title. The best part isn’t even that they ran to where they needed to be and congregated in a group, it’s that they just used extras as the “24/7 division” and they were indistinguishable from the guys who’re actually in it.
Best: GIRL! UH HUH!
Tonight was the card full of matches they just made up at the last minute. The Raw Tag Team Championship match was all it was ever going to be, which was five minutes of back and forth Raw-quality tag team wrestling where Montez Ford looks awesome and Austin Theory takes the pin because he was EXTRA extra not the plan. It was probably supposed to be the Profits vs. AOP, but AOP got hurt, so they replaced them with Andrade and Garza and built that for a week, but then ANDRADE got pulled and they were just like, “fuck it, put that first draft Finn Bálor create a wrestler in the match, he can take the pin.” At least they put Theory AND Angelo Dawkins at ringside this time so Ford didn’t jump into nothing.
The positive, though, is that BIANCA BELAIR shows up to help her husband and her husband’s less cool friend even the odds against Zelina Vega and her random confederation of hot guys, continuing her war against people who don’t even go here . Life tip: find somebody who looks at you like Montez Ford looks at Bianca Belair.
Them holding her up and showing her to all four sides was funny, though. Like I said, some wrestlers are just stuck in their animations.
Smackdown: The Women’s Elimination Match
Not best or worst. Simply, Smackdown.
Pour one out for Tamina, who disappeared from TV so long it became a joke and got played up as a threat for two whole weeks, only to be immediately eliminated from the match where she was intended to be dominant and threatening.
See you in another several months when they need a fifth or sixth person for a match and remember they’ve got a division of four people, Tamina.
In case you’re interested in the actual finish, it’s about half of what you were expecting. Lacey Evans got to look way too good while Naomi just kinda went out like a chump, and then Sasha Banks got eliminated just to jog back in and help Bayley win anyway. And then after the match, Sasha handed Bayley the belt in a way to let you know that yes, she’s going to betray Bayley, but she’d probably rather do it in front of people. Maybe she was planning to do it anyway, but called an audible when Karen knocked her out.
Good For Drew: The Main Event
Drew McIntyre vs. Brock Lesnar is the same match as Braun Strowman vs. Bill Goldberg from the previous night. Champ hits a bunch of finishers in a row at the beginning of the match, challenger kicks out. Challenger then immediately hits four of his finisher in a row and wins the title. Same damn match.
As I’ve written at length, I think Drew McIntyre rules and am happy he got to achieve his destiny as The Chosen One despite the empty building, the champion who barely wants to work, and WWE’s obsession with this match layout. We really need to retire the quick finisher spam contest. It was surprising and new when Goldberg and Lesnar did it, but it can’t be your new “main event style” blueprint. It’s just half-assed and lazy. You’re giving us exactly as much “match” as a fingerpoke to the chest would. It devalues the finishers, devalues everyone from before who got beaten by one of those finishers — see also Goldberg squashing The Fiend after Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins went to war with him for hours and couldn’t even hurt him — and feels less like a main event and more like somebody selected “fast momentum.”
Let’s hope Drew doesn’t fall victim to the Universal Championship curse. P.S. please don’t bring Brock back and switch the title back at SummerSlam. Please? Please?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
This is not hyperbole. Bray Wyatt is one of the best wrestling minds to ever live.
Dolph Ziggler getting a lesbian to be his rebound girl is the most on-brand Dolph Ziggler has been in a long time.
Tom Phillips: Up next is Drew McIntyre vs Brock Lesnar!
Byron: Aren’t we going to talk about what we just saw?
Byron: Did Bray just devour Cena’s soul?
Tom: It would appear that way!
Byron: And we’re not going to talk about it?
Tom: We are not!
Team B.A.D. reunion here.
If you don’t remember, Naomi was “Beautiful”, Sasha was “Dangerous” and Tamina was “And.”
Of all the wrestling-related things this pandemic has robbed from us, Gronk getting booed mercilessly by 70,000 people is near the top of that list.
Jushin Thunder Bieber
THIS IS MY BRUTAL YE-TAY
BRING OUT SLATER AND JINDER TO HOIST HIM ON THEIR SHOULDERS
Titus’ brain just tripped under the philosophical ring apron.
Otis and Mandy have an “every sitcom husband and wife from the last 30 years” kinda vibe.
A Randy Orton match going way too long… and you guys said the epidemic would ruin all their plans.
And there you have it: the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 36, the strangest and most unprecedented WrestleMania in history. An act in three parts.
As always, thank you, thank you, thank you for reading and enjoying these. Times are hard, and knowing y’all are still around checking these out, joking with us, and sharing the columns not only keeps us employed, it keeps his going, period. We couldn’t do it without you, and right now is proof of that. If you liked any of these, give them a share on social and drop a comment down below. We’ve got one more show — the “Raw After WrestleMania,” which will DEFINITELY not be what we’re used to — and we’re on to WrestleMania Hollywood.
CLICK HERE to read The Best and Worst of WrestleMania 36: Night One