We haven’t done a full WrestleMania preview here in a while at IGN, but given the circumstances of this year’s unique and historic WrestleMania 36, which has been whittled down to bare bones broadcasting from WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, I thought it’d be worth a closer look. Let’s sift though what to expect from the annual “Grandest Stage of Them All.”
Obviously, none of this ideal. The state of the world’s not ideal. However the decision was made to not cancel or postpone WrestleMania, but instead hold it in a small venue with no one in attendance except the performers and crew. Whatever the full reasons behind the choice to not stop the runaway train that is WWE’s ongoing product, be they financial or creative, or a combination of both, WrestleMania is about to look and feel starkly different.
It’s also worth mentioning here that there are strong rumors (just rumors, mind you) that WWE is actually considering, after their post-Mania pre-taped shows air, taking an actual hiatus. Which is a truly unheard of-yet-understandable thing; given the ever-increasing safety restrictions in Florida, it just might not be possible to keep the torch lit.
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Where Will WrestleMania 36 Be Held?
WWE started using its own tricked-out training facility, the WWE Performance Center, for televised events back on March 11 when NXT aired its weekly live show from there due to their usual venue at Full Sail being booked for a separate event. This was originally meant to be a one-off and not the new normal going forward, but the spread of COVID-19 quickly started ramping up and by that Friday, March 13 – just two days later – Smackdown was being held from the Performance Center with no fans in attendance. As it stands, that NXT show is the last event WWE had in front of a live crowd.
WWE held RAW, SmackDown, and NXT from the emptied-out Performance Center the following week, with the decision finally made to move WrestleMania there announced on Saturday, March 21. Many had wondered what might happen first: Vince making the call to cancel or postpone or Tampa city officials pulling the plug. Ultimately, WWE chose to switch venues, cancel all other Tampa events (TV Tapings, NXT TakeOver, Hall of Fame), and also spread the WrestleMania wealth out over two nights.
What Time Does WrestleMania 2020 Start?
Billed as being “Two Big for Just One Night,” WrestleMania 36’s card has now been stretched over two nights – April 4 and 5, beginning at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET. It’s possibly the craziest example of broad showmanship ever as, obviously, ‘Mania is smaller than ever this year. It’s actually such a weird misnomer that you kind of want a 180 to happen, where Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, or Triple H opens this weekend’s proceedings with an earnest message that fully addressees the corona-elephant in the room. I understand that WWE has a deep “show must go on” drive to distract people and provide entertainment (to its detriment sometimes), but I think a touch of actual honesty would be good right now.
Anyhoo, the show is very much not “too big” for one night. The decision to split it up over two days may have come from a combo of wanting to provide two nights of entertainment for those in isolation while also realizing that a nine-hour show from the Performance Center would seriously risk becoming a mind-numbing affair. It’s a lot of sameness. As it was, WrestleMania in front of 80 thousand people could also get dull in its own right. WWE now had to consider putting on a marathon of a show in a very intimate space.
WrestleMania 36 Schedule
The breakdown of matches for the two nights is rumored to be the following (though word has it WWE is still mulling over the roster for the two nights):
Night One, April 4
- Roman Reigns (er, no) vs. Bill Goldberg
- Shayna Baszler vs. Becky Lynch
- John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt – Firefly Funhouse Match
- Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Night Two, April 5
- Drew McIntyre vs. Brock Lesnar
- Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley
- Edge vs. Randy Orton – Last Man Standing Match
- The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles – Boneyard Match
These aren’t all the bouts, just a rough breakdown of the most-marquee matches and how they’re probably being divvied up. The reported idea is still to have eight matches each night so we might get a card looking a lot like that, along with these eight extra matches sprinkled in:
- Lacey Evans vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Tamina Snuka vs. Bayley – Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match
- Angel Garza and (Andrade replacement) Austin Theory vs. The Street Profits
- Daniel Bryan vs. Sami Zayn
- The New Day vs. The Usos vs. John Morrison and The Miz* – Triple Threat Ladder Match (*but Miz is out, so it will be altered)
- Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka and Kairi Sane
- Elias vs. King Baron Corbin
- Bobby Lashley vs. Aleister Black
- Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler
Is WrestleMania 36 Being Pre-Taped?
Because of the unique way this is all unfolding, and mass uncertainty when it comes to travel and the ability to gain access to talent when needed, there was no way WrestleMania 36 could have been broadcast live. With different businesses closing every day and people’s ability to even leave their homes being mandated by local authorities, WWE had to basically get everyone they needed in the building at the same time and then shoot everything they could. That included RAWs, SmackDowns (which is why last week’s pre-taped SmackDown didn’t address Roman Reigns pulling himself from the show), NXT (which taped the TakeOver matches for its regular weekly show), the post-Mania RAW, and WrestleMania 36 itself.
Just three weeks ago, Edge had to drive 17 hours from his home in North Carolina just to deliver a promo for a RAW. This was just the beginning of future personnel issues, so WWE had to switch over to a model that other, smaller promotions have been using for decades – taping multiple TV episodes at once.
According to Sports Business Daily, “government rules surrounding the outbreak made it impossible for WWE to have the amount of personnel on hand for a fully live WrestleMania. Instead, most matches have already been taped, including from locations beyond the Performance Center. However, the two shows planned will feature live content as well.”
So some things will be live. We just don’t know what yet. Commentator chatter? Backstage segments? We’ll find out.
Out of the Ring and Off-Site Matches
When Edge challenged Randy Orton to a Last Man Standing match on the RAW he spent hours and hours driving to, many fans wondered why anyone would do that type of match in an empty facility? Did WWE still think the pandemic was going to blow over in time for the stadium show in Tampa? Or did WWE realize that because the show was going to be on lockdown, you had to mix up the locations as much as possible? So instead of all the matches happening in the same ring, surrounded by the same nothingness and silence, Edge and Orton will be able to traverse the performance center and raise hell.
Of course, before the walls of COVID-19 closed in on WWE, NXT’s Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa actually brawled and battled around the same building, so Edge and Orton will have to try and make their dance differ from NXT’s previous war.
Then there are the actual off-site matches, one on each night. Much like the (much-maligned) House of Horrors match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt from a few years back, these will be filmed fights in different non-ring settings. AJ Styles and Undertaker are going to meet up in a Boneyard Match. At first, it seemed like WWE was trying to re-name the Buried Alive match. And who knows? Maybe someone will get tossed in an open grave? But what it is, overall, is a cemetery brawl. WWE just didn’t want to use the name “cemetery” or “graveyard.” The stipulations of the match, and how one wins, will probably be announced the night of.
John Cena and Bray Wyatt, on the other hand, are wrestling in – basically – an… alternate dimension? Inside Bray’s mind prison, the Firefly Funhouse. It’s a mock-up of a children’s TV show like Mr. Rogers or Blue’s Clues and it’s basically a place Bray retreats to in order to escape his past pain and torment. Yup. They’re going to wrestle in there. Hopefully, it’ll be wickedly imaginative, maybe even incorporating elements of Bray’s past gimmicks. Why not? The Funhouse is supposed to be a ferocious catalog of Bray’s history as a wrestler.
It’s also worth mentioning that Gargano vs. Ciampa, which was originally booked for NXT TakeOver: Tampa, will also take place in some type of off-site dilapidated warehouse.
WrestleMania 36 Roster: Will Roman Reigns and The Miz Appear?
Though it hasn’t been officially acknowledged by WWE, Roman Reigns has pulled himself from his slated Universal Title match against Bill Goldberg due to being immunocompromised.
The Miz is out too, or was out, since all of this has been taped already, as he reportedly was feeling ill and was not cleared to participate at the time of filming. Buddy Murphy, who wasn’t scheduled for a match but probably would have been in Seth Rollins’ corner, was also not cleared to wrestle. Rey Mysterio was also not involved in the card as he was quarantined.
On the women’s side, Dana Brooke is in quarantine, or at least was during the tapings, so she did not participate in the multi-challenger match for Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Andrade is also out, but that’s because he suffered a rib injury during his match on last week’s RAW.
These are the nuts and bolts of the roster right now. It’s shame that Roman ultimately had to pull himself from the show and wasn’t made to by WWE, given his recent triumph over leukemia, but it’s totally for the best that he leave the scene right now – and not just because if he and Goldberg had gone out there in front of tens of thousands of people, they’d have been booed out of the Bay.
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Will WrestleMania 36 Still Be Pirate-Themed?
Man, I sure freakin’ hope so.
No, it’s not in Tampa Bay anymore, and it’s a bummer we can’t watch Kairi Sane come out on a giant ship or New Day dress up like – I dunno – the Pirates of Dark Water or something, but WWE is still using the pirate graphics. The TV promos are still using that swashbuckling score and the match image backdrops are still all Jack Sparrow-y.
Just keep everything excessively Treasure Island; put the entire commentary team in ya-har! costuming like they did back at WrestleMania IX when everyone had to wear togas. Make these uncertain times… FUNcertain times. You can take away our giant outdoor stadium, but you’ll never take away our desire to see Kevin Owens remove Byron Saxton’s peg leg and hit Seth Rollins with it.
You know, moving forward, when normalcy returns and crowds are once again allowed to gather, there might be something to the whole “spreading ‘Mania out over two nights” deal. Of course, it would bump NXT TakeOver and those are WWE’s best shows by far, but just the idea of breaking up the excessive length of a normal WrestleMania is a topic worth broaching.
Will you be watching WrestleMania 36? Both nights? If so, what match are you looking forward to the most?
I’ll be live-blogging the event on both nights, so make sure you check out IGN’s homepage for all the WrestleMania match results and reactions in real-time.