@WWE Performance Center, Orlando, Florida
In wrestling, the term ‘Card Subject To Change’ is used as a disclaimer to cover any and all eventualities. After all, wrestlers or sport’s entertainers are only human, travel connections can be missed, injuries and illness can strike even the healthiest of athletes. But very rarely would you see the need for a “Entire Show Subject To Change” disclaimer.
Unfortunately, that is the uncertain seas that WWE have found themselves trying to navigate. To be fair, the entire world is facing a ‘card subject to change’ status right now. But we said it earlier in the week and will say it again here, the show must go on. And the fact that Vince McMahon has remained so steadfast in his determination to bring us entertainment should be applauded.
The WWE Network has been opened up for free and the last few weeks of programming has emanated from an empty Performance Center. The PC is WWE’s state of the art gym and training facility for the Superstars of tomorrow. Before WrestleMania 33, Rushonrock had the privilege of visiting the PC but little did anyone know that three short years later WWE’s self-titled “game changer” would play host to the company’s biggest event.
It almost seems irrelevant how we got here because, agree or disagree, WrestleMania is happening and the card is stacked as always. WWE has steered into the fact fans will have to watch for the comfort of their sofas this year and even began selling t-shirts and merchandise with the slogan “I wasn’t there!”. For the first time ever WrestleMania has been recorded to avoid falling foul of county and state Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
An emphasis on promos has seen some exceptional verbal barbs traded and it is safe to say Mania 36 will be like nothing we have seen before. Sure, the crowd won’t be there to make that special atmosphere associated with the ‘grandest stage of them all’, but a change of tack for one year will more than likely see video packages aplenty and some matches will become heavily produced.
One of those matches could be the Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles. The curiously titled stipulation has reportedly been filmed on location rather than in the ring, potentially to break up the sometimes-uncomfortable silence of matches taking place in the empty Performance Center. The two have traded fiercely personal verbal insults in a rivalry that most fans wouldn’t have seen coming just a couple of months ago. Whenever Superstars refer to their opponent by their real name, things feel just that little more based in reality.
Another match that has somehow benefitted from the current climate is the return of John Cena to a PPV to face off against The Fiend. Once the hottest property in the business, Bray Wyatt and his Fiend persona appeared to have hit a brick wall in the shape of Goldberg, with the former losing his Universal Championship in a squash match. Wyatt is no stranger to this pattern and change of fortune. His previous run as a cult leader was well received by the WWE Universe, but any momentum quickly disintegrated as the charismatic personality would lose out in any and all feuds he found himself in. Here Wyatt finds himself locked in a battle against a John Cena that has accused his opponent of being ‘over hyped and lazy’. It is, in a lot of respects, the perfect match to showcase both men’s key mantras, with a ready-made back story of their WrestleMania 30 match. The added stipulation of a FireFly Fun House Match should see Cena’s acting chops tested to the max in what could be the most bizarre segment of a WrestleMania ever.
Although a change of venue helped WWE put a show on at all, it couldn’t change the devastating effect the virus has had on people. It is a legitimate threat to health, especially to those with underlying health issues. Roman Reigns has overcome two fights with Leukaemia and as such knows full well that there are some risks in life not worth taking. His scheduled match with Goldberg for the Universal Championship was rightly cancelled to avoid any chance of Reigns contracting Covid 19. His replacement, Braun Strowman, is the beneficiary of a title shot that, to this point, has been unexplained. Goldberg vs Strowman will more than likely be a hard-hitting affair and may allow the latter to finally become the guy in the company. It won’t be a long match and, in all likelihood, won’t be pretty but it should be hard hitting if nothing else.
After waiting years to realise his full potential, Scotsman Drew McIntyre finally captured his WrestleMania opportunity by winning the Royal Rumble in January. In a cruel twist of fate, the big Scot won’t get a chance to celebrate with the legions of British fans that travel to the States each year should he wrestle the WWE Championship away from Brock Lesnar. It is one of the crying shames of the situation as he has worked so hard to move from jobber to main eventer via the indie scene. His day may come but in a warped way British fans may be hoping it won’t be this weekend so they can be in attendance when it eventually does happen. The world has never seen a British WWE Champion, but the way McIntyre has dominated The Beast, that may soon change.
Two tantalising women’s matches see the NXT Championship on the line as Rhea Ripley defends against Charlotte and Shayna Baszler looks to make the jump from NXT to Raw as she faces off against Becky Lynch for the Raw Women’s Championship. NXT has come a long way in the last year and for one of its titles to be on the line at Mania speaks volumes in the faith WWE is putting in the black and gold brand. The same can be said for Ripley, as the formidable Aussie looks to cap off a stellar year by beating one of the most dominant females in the company’s history in the shape of Charlotte Flair.
Since her win last year in New Jersey, Becky Lynch has beaten everyone put in her path, but the very dangerous Shayna Baszler offers arguably the biggest threat so far. The fans may not have warmed to the former MMA fighter, but her dominance in NXT makes her the perfect foil for the outspoken Lynch. Whereas the Irish Lasskicker likes to jump on the microphone, Baszler is more at home in the ring. Given the right amount of time, this match should be the best women’s match in Mania history.
There is a slew of other matches that offer different dynamics to the card from “rasslin” fans dream match ups such as Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan or Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins to tag matches for both Raw and Smackdown Championships. One slow burning rivalry will get its big pay off when Otis finally gets his chance to face off against Dolph Ziggler. The love triangle between both men and Mandy Rose has captured the attention since its origins last Thanksgiving and has naturally built to a conclusion here. Shockingly, it provides Dolph Ziggler his first one on one match at WrestleMania in his 15 year WWE career. The storyline of the loveable and rotund Otis vs the athletically gifted and arrogant Ziggler is perfect wrestling fodder. Anyone that’s ever had their heart broken or been told they aren’t good enough or felt inferior will always be invested in these kinds of storylines.
No matter what happens, this will no doubt be the most talked about WrestleMania in history and will dominate social media in this awfully claustrophobic time. We may not be sat in Raymond James Stadium soaking up the atmosphere, but for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday night, we can all be transported from the confines of our four walls to the Performance Center. Escapism at its finest. So get the snacks ready, pour yourself a couple of drinks and enjoy something we have never seen before and hopefully never need to again…
If you’d like to see and hear more ramblings of Wrestling Royalty, check out their Facebook page for a light hearted look at this year’s WrestleMania.
Full WrestleMania Card and Rushonrock Predictions:
WWE Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre
Universal Champion Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman
The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles
John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Reese: The Fiend
John: The Fiend
Andy: The Fiend
Edge vs. Randy Orton (Last Man Standing Match)
Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler
SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina vs. Naomi (WrestleMania Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match)
NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Raw Tag Team Champions The Street Profits vs. Austin Theory & Angel Garza
Reese: Street Profits
John: Street Profits
Andy: Street Profits
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
Reese: Aleister Black
John: Aleister Black
Andy: Aleister Black
Elias vs. King Corbin
Sami Zayn vs. Daniel Bryan
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Miz & John Morrison vs. The Usos vs. The New Day (Triple Threat Ladder Match)
Women’s Tag Team Champions The Kabuki Warriors vs Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
Reese: Kabuki Warriors
John: Bliss & Cross
Andy: Bliss & Cross
Otis vs Dolph Ziggler
Reese: Dolph Ziggler
John: Dolph Ziggler
WrestleMania 36 is The Only WrestleMania Too Big For Just One Night. You can watch on April 4 AND April 5 from midnight on the WWE Network, which costs £9.99 a month and includes a library of WWE content on demand, or get a free 30-day trial.