By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
ProWrestling.net Live returns today at 3CT/4ET. Will Pruett and I will be taking your calls (and arguing about the Firefly Funhouse match) at PWAudio.net.
WrestleMania 36 Night Two Hits
Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair for the NXT Championship: WrestleMania Night Two peaked with the opening match. Ripley and Flair did a terrific job of filling twenty minutes and this was high on my list best overall WrestleMania 36 matches. And that’s despite a finish that makes no sense to me in the moment. I’m treading lightly because Flair winning the Royal Rumble match did nothing for me in the moment, but ended up making sense when she opted to challenge Ripley for her championship. Flair will give NXT a bit of star power on Wednesday nights and she needs fresh and undamaged opponents to work with, but the obvious concern is that this loss was damaging for Ripley. I have far more faith in the NXT creative forces than I do for the Vince McMahon led main roster booking, so hopefully the NXT crew has a good plan in place to get Ripley back on track.
Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship: Lesnar did business the right way. Lesnar didn’t kick out at just after the referee’s hand hit the mat. Rather, he remained flat on his back and acted like he was out cold as McIntyre celebrated around him. It wasn’t the ultimate crowning moment that it should have been for McIntyre without a filled stadium or arena. And I have no idea why WWE didn’t do more to tell his story or to build him up on the Raw go-home show. But I remain been a big believer that McIntyre is the right choice for the top babyface position and I’m anxious to see how he does and how he’s booked going forward.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley: The match exceeded my expectations for quality and length. Lana costing Lashley the match with her bad advice is hopefully the first step toward the end of her bad pairing with Lashley.
Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler: A soft Hit for the easy to follow story of Mandy Rose avenging the plot that Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler hatched to keep her and Otis apart. The payoff was solid, but I’m not sure how much longer they can keep this interesting.
The Street Profits vs. Angelo Dawkins vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza for the Raw Tag Titles: The outcome was never in doubt and the match felt like it belonged on Raw more than WrestleMania. Fortunately, the post match angle with Bianca Belair saving her husband and Dawkins elevated the segment. That said, I hope that Belair isn’t going to be paired with the Profits in a lengthy program against Vega, Garza, and Andrade. Belair is a singles star who could give the Raw women’s division a nice boost.
WrestleMania 36 Night Two Misses
Overall show: While a case can be made for Night Two being in a tough spot because it was the second night of matches in an empty venue setting, that wasn’t the case for this viewer. I actually felt conditioned to the empty Performance Center setting thanks to Night One. The uneasiness that existed during the first few matches of Night One didn’t exist for me on Night Two, so I had no problem diving right into the long NXT Women’s Title match that opened the show. Most of the Night Two Misses missed big and the show lacked the good flow of Night One. And while I can’t in good conscious commend WWE for moving forward with the show and putting their talent and others at risk, I respect the wrestlers and crew for doing their best to provide two nights of entertainment under such strange and even frightening conditions.
Edge vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match: The match with the best WrestleMania build in years was the match that I was most anticipating. Sadly, it was also the turning point for the show that never recovered from this overly long walking brawl that just wasn’t as good as the Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano brawl that took place in the same venue on a recent edition of the NXT television show. It’s an absolute shame that Edge’s first singles match back wasn’t in front of a stadium filled with fans, especially since he appeared to have opted for having it take place at WrestleMania when he presumably could have done it in Saudi Arabia. Edge and Orton set out for an epic match and the effort was there, but they simply overstayed their welcome. The effort and desire was clearly there to create something special, but it just didn’t happen.
John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse match: The key words are “Firefly Funhouse match.” Put yourself in the position of a fan who ordered WrestleMania because they were most excited about seeing an actual match between Cena and The Fiend. Instead of getting a match, they gave fans an artsy acid trip video filled with nostalgia. While it still wouldn’t have been my thing, I would have felt a lot better about this had they simply labeled this as Cena taking a ‘trip’ to the Firefly Funhouse rather than billing it as an actual match. The Boneyard match from Night One wasn’t for me, but at least it was a cinematic simulated fight I had no issue giving it a Hit and noting that it was the spectacle that WrestleMania needed (there was simply no way to create that spectacle vibe in an empty WWE Performance Center). But not only was the Firefly Funhouse not for me, it actually left me concerned about what comes next. It was creative and most of the fan reaction to the cinematic approach has been positive, but it’s just not professional wrestling to me. And before anyone throws around “sports entertainment” as a defense, be honest enough to admit that you’ve probably rolled your eyes at the term and reacted favorably when a wrestler has used the words “professional wrestling” in defiance of WWE’s corporate wording. If I thought the cinematic approach was going to end here then this “match” wouldn’t bother me so much, but my big concern is that WWE officials now believe they’ve found something special and will continue to move further away from being the simulated sport that I love.
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina in a Fatal Five-Way elimination match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A soft Miss. The wrestling ranged from solid to good throughout the match, so that wasn’t the problem. The match was built around the Bayley and Sasha dynamic and there wasn’t enough of a storyline development between them to make it all feel worthwhile. On a side note, the history of Team BAD seems to mean a lot more to WWE than it does to most fans. I enjoy a good callback, but only if I actually have some fond memory of what they are calling back to.
Liv Morgan beat Natalya: A soft miss. The match was well worked, but there was no story between the two going into the match and thus the match felt like it was more fitting of WWE Main Event than even the WrestleMania Kickoff Show.
Rob Gronkowski: As I mentioned in my Night One Hit List, I was a big fan of Gronk on the football field. But he was a flop as the WrestleMania host. WWE took the predictable path of having him the WWE 24/7 Championship even though the gimmick of celebrities winning has a “been there and done that” feel. It was totally hypocritical of Stephanie McMahon to take a jab at AEW for having wrestlers sitting in the front row during their television matches only to have a group of wrestlers come out and catch Gronk when he performed his trust fall dive. In fact, NFL reporter Mike Florio expressed his take on the safety risk of the spot in a ProFootballTalk.com story on Gronk’s win. I’m guessing this isn’t what WWE had in mind when they did their usual attempt to generate mainstream publicity.
I thought the Funhouse match was one of best parts of WrestleMania and if I’m willing to accept that wrestling is a simulated fight then I’ll accept the craziness of the funhouse.
I thought it was hilarious when Cena kept yelling ruthless aggression while throwing a punch and missing every time!
“If I thought the cinematic approach was going to end here then this “match” wouldn’t bother me so much, but my big concern is that WWE officials now believe they’ve found something special and will continue to move further away from being the simulated sport that I love.”
I totally get this opinion and as a general rule I would share it, but I think we need to cut WWE some slack here considering the circumstances. They badly needed to create a couple of segments that were not just another match in an empty arena. More to the point, I think they did a great job of creating an entertaining and memorable cinematic. The one thing I will agree on is that they should have at least had a proper ‘wrestling match’ finish at the end after billing it as a match.