MANILA, Philippines – While every major sporting event across the globe was compelled to cancel or postpone in light of the harrowing coronavirus pandemic, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) went ahead with its annual extravaganza.
Widely regarded as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling and sports-entertainment, WrestleMania 36 pushed through behind closed doors at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, broadcasting as a two-night affair.
The show was originally penciled to take place solely on Sunday, April 5 (Monday, April 6, Manila time) at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, but the promotion relocated it to the WWE Performance Center due to the ongoing global health crisis.
The Showcase of the Immortals aired through the WWE Network.
With no audience and only essential staff present, matches were filmed at the WWE Performance Center last March 25 and 26, while two other bouts were shot in atypical styles outside of a traditional arena setting.
WrestleMania 36 may be a far cry from the magnanimous presentation that its predecessors displayed, but WWE gave its fans a semblance of normalcy in these trying times.
Rappler lists down the in-ring encounters that left an indelible mark in this year's edition.
5. NXT Women's Championship
The curtain-raiser match of WrestleMania 36's second night set everything in motion on an emphatic note as Charlotte Flair challenged Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women's Championship. Both women battled for more than 20 minutes, trading breathtaking near-fall after near-fall throughout the contest.
It seemed that the victory was within Ripley's reach when she delivered her finishing move called Riptide in the opening minutes of the showdown. Unfortunately, she could not get the count, allowing Flair to storm back with a vicious attack on the champion's leg.
Ripley tried to fend off Flair's trademark submission Figure Eight on numerous occasions throughout the bout. The Australian also locked her challenger in an inverted standing Cloverleaf submission but was unable to get the tap.
Finally, the accumulated damage to Ripley's leg caught up to her as Flair was able to fasten her signature submission hold, bridging fully for the added pressure to force the champion to wave the white flag.
Flair and Ripley deserve tremendous credit for putting on a melodramatic performance at a perfect pace to push past the obvious hurdle of drawing energy without a crowd.
#AndNew. Once again. @MsCharlotteWWE is your #WWENXT #WomensChampion! #WrestleMania pic.twitter.com/ShdV54oXZC — WWE (@WWE) April 5, 2020
4. Ladder Match for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships
This was a unique Triple Threat as each team had one competitor vying for the Smackdown Tag Team Championships in a dangerous Ladder Match. After the match was announced, a report surfaced that The Miz was sick and therefore not permitted to compete at WrestleMania.
It prompted WWE to make it a Triple Threat singles affair, with Morrison attempting to defend the titles on his partner's behalf. Kofi Kingston represented The New Day, while Jimmy Uso laced up the boots instead of his twin brother Jey.
Morrison emerged triumphant, defeating Kingston and Uso. All 3 men had a hand on the gold clip holding the blue-laced belts. Following a triple headbutt, "The Shaman Of Sexy" fell off the ladder but had possession of the championships, making him the victor.
WHAT A MATCH. WHAT AN ENDING. @TheRealMorrison keeps the #SmackDown #TagTeamTitles in his grasp, literally at #WrestleMania! @WWEUsos @TrueKofi pic.twitter.com/KWIeUpU4MV — WWE (@WWE) April 5, 2020
Ladder Matches are not a rare sight at WrestleMania, but it has been a recurring feature at "The Grandest Stage of Them All." While there was no raucous audience to cheer or shriek for the dangerous spots, those involved still managed to author an exhilarating match that bolstered the prestige of SmackDown's Tag Team division.
All 3 men took big falls at different points, making the outcome more unpredictable as the match progressed.
3. Last Man Standing Match
Edge's nine-year journey back to WWE culminated with his victorious return to WrestleMania in a Last Man Standing Match against archnemesis Randy Orton.
However, having his hand raised in triumph came with a hefty price. The duel was innovative, brutal, hard-hitting, and everything it needed to be as far as the rivalry is concerned.
It even gave us a tour of the WWE Performance Center as both men brawled into the backstage area and then all the way up onto a production truck.
In the closing sequences of the face-off, Orton was ready to hit a Con-Chair-To to write his opponent off, calling back to his assault on the episode of Raw after the 2020 Royal Rumble. But Edge avoided the chair shot, locking his rival in an arm-triangle choke.
It appeared that Edge was on his way to victory, but he stopped the referee from making the count before blasting Orton with the steel chair. The emotional "Rated-R Superstar" picked up the win in his first singles match since his WWE comeback 10 seconds later.
On this day, he sees clearly. @EdgeRatedR is the #LastManStanding. #WrestleMania pic.twitter.com/uJiZKDfiot — WWE (@WWE) April 6, 2020
2. Firefly Funhouse Match
Met with the improbable task of exceeding the bar established by the Boneyard Match the night prior, the Firefly Fun House Match between "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt and John Cena may have surpassed those expectations with a brazenly unconventional confontation.
Wyatt scored one of the biggest wins in his professional wrestling stint by defeating Cena. The match itself is difficult to put into words as the two cycled through moments encompassing both their careers and the history of professional wrestling itself.
Wyatt, whose character is a master manipulator and a mind games specialist, took Cena on a cinematic excursion that contradicted everything he said. He showed WWE's most celebrated hero his own hypocrisy by having him relive some of his most memorable moments and gimmicks.
After Wyatt made his point, his alter ego "The Fiend" appeared behind Cena, piercing him with the Mandible Claw. He then drove the multiple-time world champion to the canvas with the same hold as his alternate persona made the count for the victory.
He's here. LET HIM IN. @JohnCena @WWEBrayWyatt #FireflyFunHouse #WrestleMania pic.twitter.com/3YrNy5zKpR — WWE (@WWE) April 6, 2020
Considering how outside-the-box it went, the Firefly Fun House Match is not for everyone. But it generated a traction that is more than enough to encourage WWE in producing more cinema-based content such as this one.
1. Boneyard Match
The Undertaker and AJ Styles put a delicate cherry on top of WrestleMania 36's first night, contributing an innovative piece of professional wrestling history with the first-ever Boneyard Match. It is basically a variation of the good, old Buried Alive Match that was held in a closed compound made to look like a cemetery.
Styles played a great 42-year-old arrogant, young upstart, while The Undertaker shined as a grizzled, old veteran not to be trifled with. The match turned into a combustible scuffle that had them exchanging blows from the graveyard to the barn's rooftop.
Scenes like The Undertaker teleporting out of the grave, summoning his symbolic flames, and converting Styles from a trash talker to someone who is begging not to be buried were galvanizing in the eyes.
Near the end of the bout, The Undertaker commended Styles for putting up a gallant effort before kicking him into the grave and using a tractor to fill the grave, to walk away from WWE's inaugural Boneyard Match with the win.
The deed is done. Goodnight, @AJStylesOrg. #WrestleMania #BoneyardMatch #Undertaker pic.twitter.com/N3vUS0pUdW — WWE (@WWE) April 5, 2020
It was not a wrestling match in any sort of the traditional sense, but it showed The Undertaker is still capable of putting together classic outside-the-box performances at the age of 55.
Honorable mention: Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross vs Asuka and Kairi Sane for the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships, Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins, and Drew McIntyre vs Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship