ESPN will continue to set the mood for WrestleMania 36 when ESPN 2 airs a Brock Lesnar marathon on Sunday morning.
This year’s WrestleMania is a two-night event. After a full night of wrestling on Saturday, the five-hour Lesnar marathon kicks off at 6 a.m. ET on Sunday morning and features four of his most memorable UFC fights, as well as concludes with Lesnar’s 2000 NCAA Wrestling Championship.
The full slate of Lesnar’s fights ESPN is airing include his 2011 meeting in the Octagon against Alistair Overeem, his UFC Heavyweight Championship title defense from 2010 against Shane Carwin, another 2010 title defense against Cain Velasquez and the night he won the title against Randy Couture in 2008.
WWE then continues its hostile takeover of ESPN with an encore presentation of WrestleMania 35 at 3 p.m., which will conclude before the second night of WrestleMania 36 begins on the WWE Network.
WrestleMania 35 featured a number of highlights, including the first time that women main-evented WWE’s signature event. Kofi Kingston won a Match of the Year candidate against Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns walked away from an emotional encounter against Drew McIntyre. Triple H also defeated soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer Batista in a no holds barred match.
A WrestleMania pillar, Triple H is absent from the WrestleMania 36 card. If he does not appear in a match this weekend, it will mark only the second time Triple H has missed a WrestleMania in the past 25 years.
“As every year has passed, I’ve been busier and busier,” said Paul “Triple H” Levesque, whose responsibilities changed with his new role as WWE’s Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Development. “Last year, it was questionable whether I was going to do anything at WrestleMania, and the Batista match came up. This year, it was never really discussed, and I never brought it up.”
For the first time in WWE history, WrestleMania was taped in advance. The decision—and the decision to hold it in an empty arena at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando—is due to concerns and new regulations in place that are designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Considering this is the unpredictable realm of pro wrestling, it is always possible that Triple H makes a surprise appearance this weekend at WrestleMania.
“At various points in my career, there is no way I would ever want to miss WrestleMania,” said Levesque. “We’ve been working around the clock trying to get things done, and things are changing minute by minute. It’s been challenging, but we believe, from the performers to the crew and staff, that what we’re doing right now is very important. People need escapism. As long as we can do it safely for our athletes and for our crew and staff, then the desire is to continue to do that.”
In a world currently devoid of pro sports, ESPN has aired WWE content over the past two weeks. While sports purists may balk at the idea of sports entertaining airing on the world’s premiere sports channel, ESPN executive Brent Colborne explained that WWE’s presence has added excitement to the network amidst an uncertain stretch of time.
“The collaboration between both entities came together in a quick and timely fashion,” said Colborne, who is ESPN’s Senior Director of Programming. “March 12 was the first day of all the events falling off the calendar, and it was pretty quickly thereafter, in discussion and communication with WWE, that the idea came up for ESPN to acquire some really incredible content in three WrestleManias for three consecutive Sundays.”
The Lesnar marathon is an idea that helps ESPN extend the excitement for WrestleMania by also highlighting some of its own content.
“We’re having fun and being creative,” said Colborne. “This past Sunday we did an entire day of wrestling leading into WrestleMania 32 with the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championship and some of our best 30-for-30s, including Nature Boy. We wanted to do the same thing for this upcoming Sunday. Brock Lesnar is obviously is a huge star in WWE, and within in our own existing rights with UFC and the NCAA Championships, we have the ability to do something really fun and showcase Brock as an athlete.”
As the relationship between WWE and ESPN continues to build, Colborne was asked if there will ever be a time, potentially as soon as next year, when WrestleMania airs live on ESPN.
“It’s a great question,” said Colborne. “We’re always open to discussing a lot of different ideas with various leagues, but right now the focus for what we’re doing with WWE is on the short-term.
“We felt like this was a really good content opportunity for us to show these three encores, and a really good promotional opportunity for WWE to help utilize our reach and our brand to create more excitement for WrestleMania this upcoming weekend.”