In audience participation sport like pro wrestling, empty arenas are far from ideal. You can’t imagine the famous double turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 or electricity of the Icon vs Icon battle between The Rock and Hollywood Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X-8 working without crowd support.
These were WrestleMania moments etched in the annals of WWE history precisely because thousands of screaming fans were there live to witness them. This year’s Granddaddy of Them All was quite different, made so by necessity but not without capitalizing on the unique situation surrounding it.
Formulaic world title matches involving part-time wrestlers Goldberg and Brock Lesnar dropping their belts to last-minute Roman Reigns replacement Braun Strowman and Royal Rumble winner Drew McIntyre aren’t high spots. Nor were they intended to be.
The emotional journey Edge has been on after being forced to retire from the ring in after WrestleMania XXVII in 2011 is a story that wrestling fans can relate to. They have been here before with Shawn Michaels and Daniel Bryan.
A desire to go out on your own terms is as honest and genuine a storyline as we’ve seen in recent years. Edge’s Last Man Standing match victory over former Rated RKO tag partner Randy Orton was a well-crafted rollercoaster ride featuring some of the best backstage spots of late.
What WrestleMania 36 did so well was its bouts filmed on location that transcend regular ringcraft. The Boneyard match between AJ Styles and The Undertaker ironically had an atmosphere you just couldn’t get in a live arena jampacked with a paying audience.
This was the American Badass biker gimmick which has always divided opinion, competing in a match which is made for Taker’s Deadman persona. Yet somehow it worked perfectly – a hybrid of the motorcycle driving Phenom of 2000-2003 equipped with all the supernatural powers of the rest of his WWE run.
Given his notable Streak at WrestleMania, those offering sports tips for betting on The Showcase of the Immortals seldom go against The Undertaker. A Buried Alive match in all but name and full of more tension than usual, AJ Styles can now rest in peace.
Even more intriguing than the Boneyard battle was the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. These two collided previously at WrestleMania XXX with Cena failing to put Wyatt over despite the New Orleans crowd siding with him.
With so many spots from wrestling history and Cena even playing Hogan – the box office draw of a past era – the nods and winks to the pay-per-view and network audience made this special. It’s perhaps one of the most daring things WWE creative has had for Wyatt since his hiatus and transformation.
There is the matter of canon with these gimmick matches. Cena, who seldom wrestles these days, is technically lost in the alternate reality of the Firefly Fun House. Losses are a good way of writing himself, Orton and Styles off TV for a while.
WrestleMania 36 might not have filled a sports stadium to capacity, but is worthy of its place among memorable editions of the event. The two nights format made for a true WrestleMania weekend and thus an interesting take on sports entertainment’s biggest draw.