WrestleMania 36 is taking place under unique circumstances because of the COVID-19 outbreak. WWE’s annual blockbuster event is being presented over two nights and before no fans at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla.
Everyone tried as hard as they could on the opening night Saturday and some good matches did take place, but the show also produced one of the worst matches in WrestleMania history as Braun Strowman captured the Universal championship from Goldberg. In the main event of Night 1, The Undertaker beat AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
SN’s wrestling experts watched the first half of WrestleMania 36 and graded each match.
WrestleMania 36 match grades
Cesaro def. Drew Gulak
Steven Muehlhausen: Baffled this only went about five minutes when they had plenty of time. The match was just getting good when Cesaro hit the forearm and then followed with the airplane spin for the win. Like the fact Cesaro sold an injury so he couldn’t perform the Neutralizer. Don’t know the last time an airplane spin was used as a finisher.
Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) to win ‘Smackdown’ tag team titles
Andreas Hale: A match that went way too long and ended with Bliss hitting a Twisted Bliss to the knees of Sane to give her team the titles. Much of the match was a drag, with slow spots and uninspired offense. Asuka continues to be a bright spot while Sane remains underutilized despite all her talent. It was obvious they had to move the titles but this match just wasn’t it.
Muehlhausen: Not sure how this match went longer than Cesaro vs. Gulak. It was nothing to write home about. Thankfully, Asuka and Sane were around to make it passable. Hard to fathom why Cross kept clapping when no spectators were inside the venue. A title change was due, but not with this team.
Elias def. King Corbin
Hale: Yet another match that didn’t have much going for it. Elias and Corbin had way too much time for a feud that didn’t have a great deal of momentum. A year removed from sending Kurt Angle into retirement, Corbin lost on a rollup and a liberal use of the tights. It wasn’t terrible; it was just kinda there.
Muehlhausen: All kinds of bad here. Both guys looked to be going through the motions and the match had the feel of something you’d see from two beginners. Corbin had an argument with the referee and Elias came up from behind to roll up Corbin with a grab of the tights for the victory. Thankfully, that ended the match.
Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler to retain the ‘Raw’ women’s title
Hale: This had the potential to be a bad match, but these two managed to pull off a solid outing; however, the fact this match was under 10 minutes makes you wonder how much stock Vince McMahon had in Bayzler entering it. Nevertheless, the eight minutes they had were valuable; they exchanged submission attempts and hard strikes. Unfortunately, Lynch using the same pin that Bret Hart used against Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 8 felt underwhelming. Where does Shayna go from here?
Muehlhausen: Give Lynch and Baszler credit: They stunk up the joint at Survivor Series but provided a better-than-expected contest here. Short was better, considering Baszler has been underwhelming as a member of the main roster. Baszler helped change that narrative as she mixed her power and submissions quite well. Creative finish with Lynch flipping back to lock in the pin to remain the champion. Also have to wonder where Baszler goes from here.
Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan to retain Intercontinental title
Hale: This was the one match that deserved, at minimum, 15 minutes. Bryan and Zayn were working toward an instant classic, and then the match was cut off at the knees. It’s no secret that Zayn is one of the most underutilized talents on the WWE roster (along with Cesaro, Nakamura and Gulak) and Bryan clearly put himself in position to put him over. It was pretty darn good while it lasted, but it deserved so much more.
Muehlhausen: How these guys weren’t allowed to go 15 minutes is beyond me. Bryan is one of the top workers in the business and Zayn is no slouch in the ring. Glad to see Zayn retain because he deserves to be in a prime position, and working with Bryan will keep him there.
John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso to retain the ‘Smackdown’ tag team titles
Hale: This was, by far, the best match of the night. Despite the fact The Miz was pulled after getting sick, this trio tore down the house in a ladder match. Everyone worked their tails off, with each high flyer from the respective teams showing off tremendous athleticism. The match was given the time it needed, and it delivered a brilliant finish with Kofi and Jimmy battling over the tag titles before Morrison stole them away. Excellent match with a fantastic ending.
Muehlhausen: Not to shine a light on The Miz being sick, but it’s a good thing he wasn’t in this match because Morrison was exceptional, with Kingston and Uso not too far behind. All three worked hard and they were given the most important thing: time. The finish was excellent; all three were tugging at the belts, and then Kingston and Uso head-butted Morrison, who grabbed the belts and fell off the ladder. Morrison showed that it’s time for him to break from The Miz and go the singles route.
Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins
Hale: Two Ring of Honor standouts were given a great deal of time to put on a show, and they delivered on all accounts. Owens and Rollins worked extraordinarily hard in a hard-hitting match. It appeared for a minute that Rollins was going to get the last laugh with a DQ finish after hitting Owens with the ring bell, but Owens demanded that the match continue and took it to another level. He hit a daredevil elbow drop through the announcer table and finished the job with a stunner in the center of the ring. Well-booked with a great finish.
Muehlhausen: The match lived up to the hype. Both men were given ample time and they busted their butts the entire match. It was enjoyable to see Owens and Rollins trash talk each other while simultaneously delivering a beating. Owens got the match to continue by invoking No Holds Barred rules. From there, Owens was in control. He hit the elbow drop from the top of the WrestleMania sign and then put Rollins back into the ring, where the latter wanted no more.
Braun Strowman def. Goldberg to win the Universal title
Hale: What was this? Well, I’ll tell you what this was: WWE booked itself into a corner by putting Goldberg over on The Fiend in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of having Roman Reigns beat him at WrestleMania to become Universal champion. Reigns being predictably taken out of the match and replaced by Strowman with no rhyme or reason made little sense. The result was a “WWE 2K” match with a spamming of finishers that resulted in Strowman pinning Goldberg for the belt after a series of power slams. This was bad.
Muehlhausen: How does one define “horrendous”? Yes, this falls on WWE for having Goldberg win the belt from The Fiend at Super Showdown. The premise made sense: Use the biggest star, Reigns, to beat him and win the title at the biggest event of the year. The match should have been canceled after Reigns pulled himself, but WWE, being stubborn and not knowing how to get out of its own way, instead booked Strowman. What resulted was one of the worst headliners in WrestleMania history.
The Undertaker def. AJ Styles
Hale: For what it’s worth, the fact this match was produced in advance rescued it from having Undertaker having to work. Instead, we ended up with a Boneyard Match that took itself a little too seriously but still ended up being relatively entertaining. It’s a challenge to figure out what this match was. It was kind of a brawl with some goofy aspects. Nevertheless, Undertaker managed to bury Styles at the end and endured some interference from Gallows and Anderson, along with some guys who were dressed in hoods for reasons unknown. It was what it was, and it ended up being somewhat entertaining.
Muehlhausen: Give WWE credit. It made what would have been a rough situation inside the ring because of The Undertaker’s limitations into something people will at least talk about. The movie-style shots were well done; they gave the match a feel you don’t see too often. We also saw The Undertaker talking smack, which is out of character for him. Not a classic, but not bad.