Cesaro vs. Drew Gulak (kickoff show)
Summary: Gulak overwhelmed Cesaro early with his submission prowess, though Cesaro’s strength soon evened the scales. Gulak relaxed his in-ring parameters, ascending to the top rope and flying through the air with a reckless abandon inconsistent with his past efforts. However, an aerial miscalculation allowed Cesaro to counter a flying crossbody with a European Uppercut. Cesaro finished Gulak with a helicopter spin for the victory.
Result: Cesaro defeats Gulak via pinfall
Analysis: This was a fun sprint of a match featuring two of WWE’s premier in-ring talents. A few short months ago, the idea of Gulak earning a spot on the Wrestlemania 36 card, preshow or not, would have been laughable. However, Gulak appears primed to assume a vital role on Smackdown over the upcoming months, barring further limitations stemming from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Cesaro is in a tough spot at the moment. Once the most underrated star in WWE, it feels like a lifetime since Cesaro offered an elite in-ring performance. Whether or not start-and-stop pushes impaired Cesaro’s morale remains to be seen, though the Swiss Superman undoubtedly regressed since capturing the hearts of the WWE Universe.
The Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross (Women’s Tag Team Championships)
Summary: Rob Gronkowski kicked off the show before the challengers made their way to the ring.
The two teams mocked one another to begin the match, trading cheap barbs before the action intensified.
Cross and Bliss controlled the pace early, with each taking to the air to overwhelm the startled duo of Kairi Sane and Asuka.
A well-placed head strike from Asuka negated Cross and Bliss’ momentum, allowing the champions to isolate Cross. Cross managed to tag in Bliss, but a double stomp from the middle rope quickly neutralized the challenger.
Deception, resounding strikes and underhanded tactics kept the advantage in the Kabuki Warriors’ favor. However, after fighting from behind for a considerable portion of the match, a swinging neckbreaker from Cross appeared to win her team the titles before an In-Sane Elbow interrupted the count.
Asuka locked Cross in the Asuka Lock, only for Bliss’ to break the submission hold with a Twisted Bliss that almost fractured Asuka’s skull. A modified Doomsday Device from the Kabuki Warriors nearly finished the match, but a resilient Cross kicked out at two.
Cross and Bliss secured the title after executing a swinging neckbreaker/Twisted Bliss combo on Sane.
Result: Bliss pins Sane to win the Women’s Tag Team Championships
Analysis: This was a strong effort by four incredibly capable performers. Despite an absent crowd and diminished atmosphere, the women took jarring risks to entertain the fans at home, proving their merit to those questioning their positioning on the card.
However, general apathy toward Bliss and Cross hindered this result. The thrown-together duo ran its course quite some time ago, resulting in the contest feeling like house show encounter masquerading as a marquee tag team bout.
Bliss and Cross walking out with the titles is a surprise. Whether WWE attempts to reinvent the tension they failed to capitalize on during the duo’s first title reign remains to be seen, though the prospect of Bliss and Cross teasing the same storyline developments unfulfilled by both Cross and Bliss and Bayley and Sasha Banks is an underwhelming prospect.
Nevertheless, a strong performance to begin Wrestlemania relative to the circumstances.
King Corbin vs. Elias
Summary: Corbin sauntered to the ring, gloating about blindsiding Elias. Despite an implied injury, a physically compromised Elias showed up to fight, initially surprising Corbin with unrelenting strikes and a reverberating guitar strike to Corbin’s back.
Corbin recaptured the momentum, grounding the impaired Elias while slowing the pace. Elias regained his footing, trading high-impact strikes and maneuvers with the 2019 King of the Ring winner.
After Corbin attempted to use the ropes to steal the victory, Elias countered into his own roll up, grabbing Corbin’s tights to secure the three-count.
Result: Elias defeats King Corbin via pinfall
Analysis: A match that should have never appeared on a Wrestlemania card concludes with a cheap finish.
Let that sink in.
Had this match taken place in front of a live audience, fans would have either remained deafeningly indifferent toward the result or outright revolted. WWE sabotaged the momentum accrued by Elias after a surprisingly successful debut for the sake of putting over part-time performers. Meanwhile, Corbin epitomizes X-Pac heat at this stage in his career.
Why WWE would book the two to face off at an already-sterilized version of Wrestlemania deserves to be investigated. However, this match served as a sad reminder of why Wrestlemania should have been postponed.
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler (Raw Women’s Championship)
Summary: The match started on the outside of the ring as both competitors tried to maim her opponent. A hurricanrana from Lynch dropped Baszler on her head, temporarily subduing the challenger before Lynch threw her into the steel steps.
Unproductive motion from Lynch afforded Baszler an opening to regain the momentum. However, neither woman maintained the advantage until Lynch planted Baszler on the ring apron. Baszler adapted a double-hook powerbomb into an armbar before transitioning into a Dis-Arm-Her.
Lynch escaped by rolling to the ring apron, where both women attempted to apply their trademark submissions. Baszler abandoned her pursuit of the Kirafuda Clutch to pirouette Lynch’s head into the announce table.
Once inside the ring, Lynch countered a second attempt at the Kirafuda Clutch into a pinfall to retain her title.
Result: Lynch defeats Baszler via pinfall
Analysis: Eh. This match could and should have been much better. However, while Baszler’s character work remains superb, the ever-elusive breakout in-ring performance continues to evade her.
Lynch continues to look like a world-beater, slicing through the women’s roster like a warm knife through better. WWE is now tasked with finding a suitable opponent for a woman so entrenched as the Raw Women’s Champion that prospective challengers seem outclassed before ever stepping foot inside the ring.
As for Baszler, it appears the rumors indicating McMahon’s lukewarm reception to her are true. Baszler will either return meaner and nastier than ever or be relegated to the midcard until she can serve her purpose as Ronda Rousey’s henchwoman.
Sami Zayn (c) vs. Daniel Bryan (Intercontinental Championship)
Summary: Zayn commenced a cat-and-mouse game with Bryan, baiting the challenger into racing after him outside of the ring. After Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura obstructed Bryan’s pursuit, Drew Gulak intervened, sending Cesaro and Nakamura over the barricade and allowing Bryan to force Zayn into the ring.
Bryan grounded a pleading Zayn before executing a perilous suicide dive. Clubbing blows battered a laboring champion before Nakamura and Cesaro’s return arrested Bryan’s momentum, distracting the challenger long enough for the champion to counter a Bryan cross body into a Helluva Kick for the win.
Result: Zayn defeats Bryan via pinfall
Analysis: This match is a model example of the importance of in-ring psychology. Zayn’s desperate pleas assumed center stage as a perceptibly superior Bryan became enraged. The fascinating display of banter nearly counteracted the impact of having no fans in attendance.
Unfortunately, this was an abbreviated title bout better suited for an episode of Smackdown than Wrestlemania. Had WWE afforded these superstars ten more minutes and a clean finish, this match could have stolen the show. Instead, this angle presumably advances to a setting more compatible with the remarkable in-ring talent of those involved.
John Morrison (c) vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Jey Uso (Smackdown Tag Team Championship)
Summary: The participating superstars quickly erected ladders, attempting to end the match swiftly and quickly. It didn’t take long for Kingston to take flight as he soared off the ladder to fell his opponent with a cross body.
As Kingston ascended the ladder, Morrison met him at the top. Unfortunately for the champion, the ladder was out of position, providing ample time for Uso to quell his attempt to win the match. Kingston attempted to pinball through the ladder, but was caught by Uso and Morrison, who teamed to deposit him from the ring.
Morrison and Uso battled atop the turnbuckle before the champion bested his challenger. A modified Starship Pain onto the ladder incapacitated a subdued Uso, though Kingston ruined Morrison’s attempt to retrieve he title belts with a springboard hurricanarana that knocked Morrison off the ladder.
Kingston proceeded to use the ladders with reckless abandon, displacing Uso from atop the barricade by repurposing the ladder as a makeshift spear. Consumed by his pursuit of championship gold, Kingston mercilessly hammered away at Morrison and Uso, positioning Uso across an elevated ladder.
Morrison circumvented Kingston’s momentum, tightroping the ring ropes before planting Kingston with a Spanish Fly.
The match took a dangerous turn after Morrison dumped Uso from atop the ladder to the outside floor. As Morrison climbed the ladder, Kingston and Uso met him at the top. All three men unclasped the structure supporting the titles belt, wrestling for the retrieved belts before Morrison crashed to the ground with both titles in hands
Result: Morrison retrieves the title belts to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Championships
Analysis: Credit to WWE for coming up with a novel finish to an aged match stipulation.
This was quite frankly the night’s first Wrestlemania-worthy effort. All three men put their bodies on the line as they displayed their unrivaled athleticism. The pace never slowed and the action never faltered as three seasoned veterans monopolized the empty skies.
While a crowd would have enhanced this contest, the match benefited from an authenticity befitting of the carnage. Feats of athleticism supplemented the hazards of a ladder match, as evidenced by Uso crashing to a thinly-padded floor.
Morrison winning was the right call as The Miz and Morrison haven’t received enough time to cement their legacy as tag team champions. Meanwhile, the Usos and The New Day have been mainstays of the WWE tag team division for years now. An eighth or seventh reign for the New Day or the Usos, respectively, would have been grossly underwhelming.
Kingston’s intensity was a welcome development. Known for assuming the jovial babyface role, an angry Kingston is a sight to behold. WWE would be wise to consider whether or not Kingston is capable of surviving absent of the New Day as a safety net, as the former WWE Champion remains deserving a second spell atop the proverbial WWE mountain.
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Summary: Rollins took control during the early portion of the contest, sticking Owens with a Falcon Arrow on the ring apron before executing consecutive suicide dives. A missed stomp attempt opened the door for Owens to plant Rollins with a DDT, shifting the momentum in Owens’ favor.
Owens followed a superkick with a cannonball and top-rope Senton, earning a two-count for his efforts. Rollins regained the momentum, accelerating through his moveset before Owens thwarted his momentum with a sit-out, pop-up powerbomb.
The contest came to an abrupt end after Rollins clocked Owens with the ring bell. However, Owens goaded Rollins into resuming the match as a No Disqualifications match.
Rollins reentered the ring, immediately landing a flying knee to Owens’ temple. Returning to the outside of the ring, Rollins basked in the idea of permitted weaponry, using a steel chair and the ring steps to disable his opponent.
Owens returned the favor, striking the “Monday Night Messiah” with the ring bell before jumping off the Wrestlemania sign to send Rollins through the announce table. After struggling to return Rollins to the ring, Owens finished his opponent with a stunner.
Result: Owens defeats Rollins via pinfall
Analysis: Leave it to two of WWE’s most reliable performers to refute the limitations imposed by the coronavirus to put on a memorable match.
For a brief moment, it appeared that WWE contented itself on postponing this feud to a later date. However, a mid-match stipulation salvaged a contest in need of a final act, allowing Owens to capture his Wrestlemania moment while bringing this match to a definitive close.
The subtleties embedded in Rollins’ demeanor were superb, as the “Monday Night Messiah” relished the opportunity to use weapons to mar his opponent. Owens weathering his opponent’s flurry of bone-shattering offense was a fun development needed to advance Owens’ babyface run.
Where the two go from here should be interesting. Rollins carries enough credibility to survive a setback. Owens, however, appears to have stagnated as a babyface, especially with McIntyre set to assume the top face role within the company. Perhaps Owens reverts to a malleable anti-hero, capable of contesting both babyfaces and heels without forfeiting support.
If not, WWE may be wise to return Owens the family-first bruiser gimmick that got him over in the first place.
Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman (Universal Championship)
Summary: Goldberg leveled Braun Strowman with three of spears, though the challenger kicked out at two. Strowman earned the victory and his first foremost title after hitting four consecutive powerslams.
Result: Strowman defeats Goldberg via pinfall to win the Universal Championship
Analysis: Another abbreviated match meant to protect Goldberg’s glaring in-ring limitations. Nevertheless, watching Strowman hoist the Universal Title above his head was a surreal, spine-chilling moment.
Over the past two years, WWE failed the “Monster Among Men.” Strowman and WWE organically coaxed a reluctant WWE Universe into embracing the once-lumbering big man. Exemplary character work and a commitment to his gimmick earned Strowman the very admiration performers like Roman Reigns never discovered, though WWE elected to forego a Strowman title reign for the sake of returning to the well once too many times.
Goldberg no longer serves much of a purpose from an entertainment standpoint He actively restrains younger, more active talent, monopolizing the very platform used by Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock to become megastars.
Goldberg’s one-minute squash matches contaminate otherwise loaded cards, causing major pay-per-views to conclude with a whimper. Hopefully, WWE comes to prioritize its current roster over part-time superstars who are a shell of their former selves.
The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles (Boneyard Match)
Summary: AJ Styles arrived in a hearse as the engine of The Undertaker’s motorcycle whispered in the background. “The Deadman,” reassuming his biker gimmick, casually tossed Styles around the boneyard before mounting him atop the hearse.
A staggered Styles retreated as The Undertaker lobbed verbal taunts. The opportunistic “Phenomenal One” capitalized on a distracted Undertaker to reclaim the momentum until ‘Taker deposited him into a hallowed grave.
As “The Phenom” readied to end the match, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson surfaced, accompanied by a cast of robed bandits. The Undertaker discarded his faceless foes before turning his attention to the OC.
A revived Styles resurfaced to bloody The Undertaker before driving a gasping “American Badass” through a wooden fence. After jeering a subdued ‘Taker, Styles used a shovel to send The Undertaker into the dug-out grave.
However, a resilient Deadman appeared behind Styles. ‘Taker chased Styles atop a rooftop before watching Gallows tumble 20 feet to the ground. After delivering a Tombstone Piledriver to Anderson, The Undertaker turned his attention to Styles, chokeslaming him off the roof.
“What’s me my age again,” quipped The Undertaker, peering down at an immobilized Styles. “What’s my wife’s name.”
After toying with a pleading Styles, The Undertaker big booted “The Phenomenal One” into the unoccupied tomb.
Result: The Undertaker defeats AJ Styles
Analysis: An amazing match concept slightly hindered by overproduction. Nevertheless, the return of “The American Badass” rejuvenates a stale Undertaker character.
There’s something inherently cool about Mark Callaway. The manner in which he toyed with his beseeched opponent operated as an excellent bit of storytelling.
While this match wasn’t worthy of the main event slot–WWE needs to entertain the idea of promoting the tag team division–the match left fans satisfied, palatable enough to engender interested for the second leg of Wrestlemania.
Should The Undertaker continue as an in-ring performer, WWE would be wise to use pre-taped matches to shield his limitations. How WWE restores a rapidly eroding Styles is unclear. However, Styles requires a hard reboot before returning to the title scene.
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