WWE wasn’t kidding.
There has never been a WrestleMania quite like WrestleMania 36.
There were highlights and lowlights to the first-ever second night of WrestleMania, but there is no denying that WWE took chances in its pursuit of putting on the best show possible for wrestling fans.
The company moved forward with Drew McIntyre as its new champion, as he defeated Brock Lesnar to close out the show and start his inaugural run with the WWE Championship. WWE’s main event scene is in need of a new star, and McIntyre is a dynamic force the company hopes to build around for the foreseeable future. Defeating Lesnar in the go-home match at WrestleMania, even if it was held at the Performance Center, is a critical step for McIntyre toward becoming a made man in WWE’s main event scene.
A flawless performance from Charlotte Flair in the opening match will likely be overshadowed by the events that followed, but it was a tremendous display of pro wrestling. Flair defeated Rhea Ripley to become the new NXT Women’s Champion, denying the 23-year-old Ripley a successful debut at WrestleMania.
After a nine-year absence, Edge made a triumphant return to WrestleMania. He defeated Randy Orton in a “Last Man Standing” match that was filled with passion but just went on for far too long.
The “Firefly Fun House” match also stood out. While some will applaud its innovative nature, there are others–myself included–that wanted to see a wrestling match. If that was what you were seeking, that match was a major disappointment.
Here are the results from night two:
-- Liv Morgan defeated Natalya Neidhart on the kickoff show
-- Charlotte Flair defeated Rhea Ripley to become the new NXT Women’s Champion
-- Aleister Black defeated Bobby Lashley
-- Otis defeated Dolph Ziggler
-- Edge defeated Randy Orton in a “Last Man Standing” match
-- Rob Gronkowski defeated Mojo Rawley to become the new 24/7 champion
-- The Street Profits defeated Angel Garza and Austin Theory
-- Bayley retained her SmackDown Women’s Championship in a Fatal Five-Way match against Sasha Banks, Naomi, Lacey Evans, and Tamina
-- “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena in a “Firefly Fun House” match
-- Drew McIntyre defeated Brock Lesnar to become the new WWE Champion
And here are my takeaways, along with some perspective from Kurt Angle and NFL insider Adam Schefter, from the second and final night of WrestleMania 36:
Kurt Angle gives new WWE Champion Drew McIntyre his endorsement
WWE legend Kurt Angle knows a thing or two about headlining WrestleMania.
Angle main-evented WrestleMania XIX with Brock Lesnar, which was a match that helped elevate Lesnar into a top-tier star for WWE.
Tonight, Angle watched Lesnar return that favor to Drew McIntyre, who defeated Lesnar in the main event to become the WWE champion.
“We finally have somebody new in the main event, and that’s Drew McIntyre,” said Angle. “He is the breath of fresh air for WWE. Now you don’t need to continuously keep going back to Roman, Cena, and Brock. Drew is the new guy, and he needs to excel this year.”
Angle shares a history with McIntyre that dates back to their time together in TNA. During Angle’s farewell tour with the company, his final match was with McIntyre.
“We had a fantastic match in TNA, and I elected to put him over,” said Angle. “Winning or losing, that was my choice. I put over Bobby Lashley on my last tour, but then Bobby Roode insisted that he lose to me, so Bobby Roode was my second-to-last match, and then I told Drew he’d be my final match in TNA. We had an incredible match, a good 18-19 minutes, and I tapped out to him.
“I know Drew didn’t do as well as he would have liked the first time he was in WWE, but I knew he was special when I saw him in TNA. He looked great then, but he still didn’t look the way he looks now–he worked his ass off, built his body up, and he looks fantastic. I knew if WWE got a hold of him, his career would take off.”
Angle’s WWE retirement came a year ago at WrestleMania 35, but before that, he took time to ensure that McIntyre received the proper build as a monster heel in a 2018 match on Raw.
“Vince McMahon came to me and said, ‘We’ve got to make this kid. Just do what you have to do to make him,’” said Angle. “So I sat down with Drew and told him that he was going to use my ankle lock. You can’t ask for a more dominating win than using someone else’s finisher on them.”
Angle also extended his respect and admiration for Lesnar, who put on an outrageously passionate performance in defeat.
“Brock is the perfect wrestler,” said Angle. “The guy has strength, power, explosion, quickness, agility, intelligence, and he’s very composed in the ring. Look at what he’s accomplished outside of WWE–he’s an NCAA champion, a UFC champion. And he puts asses in seats. People watch the shows because of Brock.
“Brock doesn’t get beat very often, but people want to see Brock get beat. The greatest thing in the world for the fans watching is to see Brock lose the title to somebody new, and that new person is Drew McIntyre.”
“Firefly Fun House” may have been innovative, but felt out of place at WrestleMania
John Cena and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt combined for a WrestleMania moment that has never before been produced and can never again be replicated.
No one will ever forget the “Firefly Fun House” match, whether you’d like to or not.
Similar to the “Boneyard” match, WWE took risks creatively. The Undertaker’s match was rooted in the foundation of pro wrestling in its presentation, even if it was at times over the top. Plus, The Undertaker’s role cannot be overstated–multiple generations of the WWE fan base are in awe of his work, and people were pleasantly surprised at how the cinematic elements added to the story.
The “Firefly Fun House” was an entirely different story. The story spanned the careers of Cena and Wyatt, but it was not a traditional wrestling story. If you enjoyed it, then that is fantastic. But for a portion of the audience used to a certain standard of in-ring excellence at WrestleMania, this was a spectacle that will forever stand out simply for being different.
There were very few traditional WrestleMania elements on display here, highlighted by Wyatt counting his own pin fall victory. For fans of both Wyatt and Cena, it was disappointing that we did not see a match in the ring. Unlike Undertaker-Styles, which needed to escape the confines of the Performance Center in order to succeed, this could have been a unique, compelling match inside the ring.
The twist in Cena-Wyatt should have been that it was a straightforward wrestling match, with Wyatt getting the better of Cena. That would have been enough of a surprise for me.
Adam Schefter impressed with Rob Gronkowski’s performance as WrestleMania 36 host
Rob Gronkowski served as the host of this year’s WrestleMania. Despite an inauspicious appearance a couple of weeks ago on SmackDown, Gronkowski made the most of his opportunity at the Super Bowl of wrestling–and his work even caught the attention of ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter.
“I was watching him from a TV standpoint, and I’ll say this–he nailed it,” said Schefter, the leading voice of breaking news when it comes to the National Football League. “He had great energy, he got people pumped up. He was Gronk, what you’d expect and what you’d want for that setting. From an on-air perspective, it was very impressive.”
The NFL’s connection to WrestleMania connects back to WrestleMania II in 1986, when six football stars–including the Bears’ William “Refrigerator” Perry, who was only a couple months removed from a Super Bowl victory–took part in a 20-man battle royal that ended with Andre The Giant eliminating Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Decades later, pro football and pro wrestling still intertwine, and Schefter sees Gronkowski–who is now the new 24/7 champ–as a natural fit with WWE.
“He’s a larger-than-life character,” said Schefter. “He was great for the NFL, and he’ll be great for WWE.”
As a three-time Super Bowl champion and a four-time First-team All Pro, Gronkowski carved out a remarkable career playing tight end for the New England Patriots. Schefter was asked if a return to football, potentially in Tampa Bay alongside Tom Brady, is possible, or if Gronk is now better suited for a run in WWE.
“I’m sure the Patriots would love to have him back, as would any NFL team,” said Schefter. “But we’re looking at a guy who, at this point in time, has settled in to the next chapter of his life. Do I see him coming back to football? Not with the way he’s enjoying himself now, he’s having too much fun. It looks like, on the surface, he has transitioned to the next phase of his life.”
After playing for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for the duration of his NFL career, Gronkowski is well prepared to work for Vince McMahon.
“I’m sure that preps you, of course, in many ways,” said Schefter. “Organizations and groups like WWE want Gronk because he’s so identifiable and relatable on a number of levels. He’s an enormously popular guy, and there is a reason he’s enormously popular. People gravitate to him and want to be around him. Do I see him becoming a 9-to-5 desk worker? No, that’s not how I see Gronk. I see Gronk being the life of the party for WWE, and that’s what it looks like he plans on doing.”
Charlotte Flair delivers the performance of the night
In a surprise outcome, Charlotte Flair defeated Rhea Ripley to become the new NXT Women’s Champion.
The match was nothing short of outstanding. Ripley and Flair worked a physical style for over 20 minutes, before Ripley ultimately succumbed to Flair’s Figure 8 finisher.
It wasn’t the expected outcome, but it makes complete sense. Flair is one of WWE’s biggest stars and best performers. Since there is no live crowd for the foreseeable future to help build Ripley’s momentum following a win, why not put Flair over? Plus, Flair gives NXT an invaluable piece in their battle for supremacy on Wednesday nights against AEW.
Edge and Randy Orton fail to meet expectations
Edge and Randy Orton had a fantastic build to WrestleMania, but their match failed to deliver.
If not expectations, the match certainly exceeded its time limit. On a taped show that has been edited over and over again by the WWE production team, they brawled for over 37 minutes. Without any adrenaline from a live crowd, this was a recipe for failure.
WWE did all it could to vary its presentation, and an argument could be made that this match didn’t belong in the ring–though a pin fall finish would have meant a lot more to this match than the repetitive slow counts to 10.
It is good to have Edge back in WWE, and if he ever makes a run at the title, it will be appointment viewing. But after an emotional and perfect return at the Royal Rumble, his match at WrestleMania was a disappointment.
Bianca Belair makes her WrestleMania debut with the Street Profits
The Street Profits defeated Angel Garza and Austin Theory in a match that was a WrestleMania debut for all four performers.
The Profits’ Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins are extremely entertaining, but they are in desperate need of a program that features opponents with some chemistry. Garza and Theory are talented, but this match was thrown together late, and that’s how it felt.
If The Usos moved to Raw, they could be a great fit to bring out the best of Dawkins and Montez. It also was a boost for Bianca Belair to be introduced to their act. The NXT star is married to Ford, and they work well together on-screen. I wish Belair stayed longer in NXT for a run with the belt, but she adds some excitement to the Raw brand.
WrestleMania 36 ended the WrestleMania streak for “Ringside Charlie”
WrestleMania is more than merely a wrestling show. It is a cultural milestone among fans, and traveling to WrestleMania is a yearly tradition for much of WWE’s fan base.
Charlie Adorno, better known as “Ringside Charlie,” attended the first 35 editions of WrestleMania, a streak that began in 1985 at the original WrestleMania.
“From Madison Square Garden, right up until last year,” said Adorno, who chose to attend WrestleMania II–which was held at three separate locations in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles–at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. “It was the most local of the three, but I was such a big Roddy Piper fan, and that’s where he was appearing, so it made the most sense for me.”
Adorno’s streak comes to an end in 2020, as WWE filmed without fans on a closed set, and he will instead be watching from the comfort of home in Staten Island. Even with the restrictions caused by COVID-19, Adorno nearly found a way to continue the streak.
“A couple of people internally wanted me to come,” said Adorno. “They even said that if some fans were allowed in, I’d be at the top of the list. So there was definitely talk about the possibility, but with all of the strict guidelines, they were already at capacity for the amount of people they could have in the building. It wasn’t meant to be. If it was possible, I would have been there.”
Those saddened by the end of his consecutive WrestleMania appearances can take solace in knowing that Adorno has another even more impressive streak. He has not missed a WWE show at Madison Square Garden since 1982. And, like The Undertaker following his loss at WrestleMania 30, Adorno will be back for another round.
“I already got my refund from the plane ticket to Tampa, and it’s been credited to my flight to Los Angeles next year for WrestleMania 37,” said Adorno. “I’ll be back next year, ready to go.”
Aleister Black ready for starring role
Aleister Black’s victory against Bobby Lashley was a solid match, and it delivered despite minimal build or background story.
Although they are on different brands, a program between Black and “The Fiend” could be incredible. Black is ready for a bigger role in WWE, and he has all the tools necessary to be the next major star for the company.
As for Lashley, the loss is a bit deflating. He is incredibly talented, but the program with Rusev did not elevate either performer into a better position on the card.
Would a return of Lio Rush into Lashley’s entourage help enhance his act? At the very least, they could have a direction by making a run for the tag titles.
Bayley retains the SmackDown Women’s Championship, but WWE doesn't give viewers Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
The fatal five-way match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship ended the same way it started, as Bayley retained the title.
Bayley is one of WWE’s hardest working, loyal stars, so it was nice to see her rewarded with a showcase moment at WrestleMania. It was disappointing that WWE decided to end the match with Bayley against Lacey Evans instead of Sasha Banks.
Evans is held in very high regard by Vince McMahon, and viewed as someone with loads of potential, but the money match is Banks-Bayley. Banks ultimately made the save that helped Bayley win the match, but for those of us still awaiting a Banks-Bayley match at WrestleMania, we’ll have to wait until at least next year.
WrestleMania makes the best of unique circumstances
Hopefully we’ll never again see an event quite like WrestleMania 36.
WrestleMania is a larger-than-life event that belongs in a setting which fits that description. But given the circumstances of the plight of the world as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on society, WrestleMania–even in its subdued fashion–brought excitement to wrestling fans and was an escape from a difficult reality.
The show had its share of faults, and there will undoubtedly be parts that WWE glosses over in the history books. But wrestling fans were reminded of the brilliance of Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, got an incredible presentation from The Undertaker and AJ Styles, and saw the next chapter in WWE’s future from new champions in Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was still WrestleMania.