Well, here we are. This might just be the weirdest WrestleMania to ever happen, brought about by unfortunate circumstances. Also, now a two-night affair, this first night would see Kevin Owens against Seth Rollins, a singles edition of the Smackdown Tag Title match, Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler, Goldberg/Braun and so much more all while being presented by Rob Gronkowski. Could Mojo Rawley’s mate keep an empty arena show hype? We’d soon see. Also we had the Boneyard Match… whatever the hell that is.
So Drew Gulak vs Cesaro was a very last minute addition as a pre-show match to a show that didn’t really need a pre-show. However, it wasn’t half bad. Gulak went all out on smashing the arm of Cesaro and Cesaro won the match with an Airplane Spin slam using no arms (AKA the UFO for those familiar with Cesaro’s old work). It was really good for what it was, but it was also way too short. I get they had to tape it all in a couple of days but did they have to rush this one? It was good but I wanted way more from these two. Considering the number of ads in the pre-show they certainly could have spared a few extra minutes to this match.
Women’s Tag Title Match Goes Hard
The show officially opened with the Women’s Tag Title match between the Kabuki Warriors and Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross. This bout went big as all four women took some serious shots at each other. The empty ringside actually lent itself well here as it showcased Asuka and Sane’s impressive trash talking abilities. They were excellent at cutting the ring off and breaking the rules to their advantage but they were overcome by Nikki Cross’ durability and the brutal striking of Bliss. We got new champions in the first match and an actual Mania worthy match out of both teams. All in all, excellent start to the PPV.
Elias’ Mania Moment
The match was nothing special but Elias finally got a good Mania moment by rolling up the big bad bully Baron Corbin. I’m calling that a win.
Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan is pretty much the perfect match on paper. Two indie darlings that became WWE favourites known for their impactful and intense offense. How this played out was cocky Sami trash talk alongside his goons, Gulak took care of said goons, Bryan uses Zayn like a punching bag whilst Zayn begs for his life, Zayn musters a comeback for all of 5 seconds, goons come back, Zayn wins with yet another innovative Helluva Kick. I loved every second of this. Zayn is a master of drama and talking whilst I enjoyed seeing a merciless Bryan pummel the life out of a helpless Zayn. I’m glad there was a proper finish too and not just Zayn winning with a DQ or something.
Ouch, Ouch, Ouch
That ladder match was something special. Despite no one being in person to applaud anything that happened in the match, all three men brought it and brought it hard. This went down nastier than several of the Money in the Bank matches that have aired over the years. All three of these guys should be dead. You got Jimmy Uso taking horrific falls, Kofi being athletic as hell and throwing ladders then John Morrison being John Morrison. Nobody needed to go this hard here but they did and should be applauded for it. This was great and the total match of the night. Morrison won by falling to his death whilst clutching the titles. It was a unique finish for a uniquely terrifying match. Hats off to all three men here.
Match of the Year
Be honest, when you saw AJ Styles vs The Undertaker in a boneyard match, did you really have high hopes? What we got was so unexpected and so god damn amazing it defies WWE logic. It was a highly edited, cinematic, Lucha Undergroud-esque graveyard brawl full of fun, fighting and craziness. Taker looked about 10 years younger and Styles made everything all the more entertaining. This felt like something so far removed from typical WWE that it was refreshing to watch. It sent the watchers off on a good note too as Taker defended his wife’s honour and buried AJ Styles. There’s so much to unpack here that I’ll just tell you to watch it. It is 20 minutes of sheer joy. You can thank me later.
Did this show need to happen?
So, I’m going to address the elephant in the room. WWE took a huge risk in filming this show. They followed every health guideline they could but even so, could any product that came from this really provide a product worthy of WrestleMania? Was all the risk worth this unusual Mania? Obviously, that is up for you to decide. I just think it might have been wiser to postpone and give everyone the full Mania experience instead of risking the health of your performers, staff and their families to produce this.
The Let Down
What the hell was this? Shayna was built like a monster, killed five people at the Elimination Chamber then loses in under ten minutes. To a finish she lost to in NXT no less. This had potential to be great. No matter what happened, that should have been Shayna’s crowning moment. Instead Becky won with a roll-up. In the match following a match that had been won by a roll-up. I get that Shayna was playing with her food but to lose in such a dumb way is just a let down to all the build WWE spent on her. The match itself was fine. Both women went stiff and traded nicely, Becky got to be the wrestling defender and Shayna was Shayna, a domineering bully. I just think the finish undermined everything going on, just like its place on the card.
Go Go Strowman
Okay, let me preface this by saying I’m happy for Braun Strowman finally getting his big belt (despite his indy comments of recent) but this was awful. It was even worse in an empty PC. All this ended up being was a gut kick, four spears and four powerslams. It was awful to watch. Plus, it means the Fiend was sacrificed for this. Yay.
So, I understand why the show happened as it did. Between COVID-19, Tampa restrictions on events and that overhanging sense of the show must go on, WWE tried to put on the best it could with what it had. Unfortunately, that meant a show with zero audience. That might not sound too bad but as anyone who has seen WWE programming would know, it’s kind of eerie to watch. It’s hard to celebrate or vilify people without crowd interaction or a sense of drama. Since the show is meant to be an escape, it’s rather odd to be smacked in the face by reality in the absence of every human that isn’t essential.
So, Seth Rollins vs KO was an odd one. It was a random mix of proper wrestling interrupted by a DQ that then transitioned into an all-out brawl. Seth was great at running his mouth and being a little bitch whilst KO came back and sent him home broken. The real moment of the “match” though was KO jumping off the Mania sign to put Seth through an announcer table. That made the match, otherwise it would have just gone down as a victim to the lack of a crowd. Before the brawl, it was good but struggled to get going as there was no one audibly there to tell Seth where to stuff himself.
Well, there you have it. Night one of WrestleMania was a bit of a mixed bag but under the circumstances, I’d say it was pretty good. There were some real odd choices with the booking and some useless matches but overall, it was enjoyable. The three-hour runtime was appreciated too as it meant we didn’t get burned out with all the matches. The opening match, ladder match, Zayn/Bryan and the main event all excelled despite the lack of a crowd. The main event especially deserves an award for being one of the most outlandish Mania matches of all time. It felt perfect for the situation WWE found itself in and honestly, I want more of it. I just hope night 2 is at least as enjoyable. We’ll soon see.