By Mike “Sarge” Riley, Wrestling Inside The Ropes
Note: This article is spoiler-free.
Here we are, WrestleMania weekend has arrived!
WWE made the decision to have the show go on. Originally it was going to be at Tom Brady’s new home in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium, but the company’s hand was forced to move it to their performance Center in Orlando (and allegedly multiple sites with matches on location), where Brady’s former teammate Rob Gronkowski will host the event.
For the first time in the 35-year history of the event, WrestleMania 36 has been pre-taped without a crowd and will be a two-night event due to restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will stream on the WWE Network Saturday & Sunday starting at 7 p.m. ET each night.
The sweeping changes made to this year’s WrestleMania dramatically changed many of the storylines leading into the show. For the sake of new content, it’s great to have a whole weekend of WrestleMania matches, and we’ll get 16 total between Saturday and Sunday whether we like it or not.
Here is my starting 9 lineup of the matches I’m looking forward to the most.
1. Undertaker vs. A.J. Styles, Boneyard Match
We’re going to a cemetery for this one, but it’s being billed as the “Boneyard” because of everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a huge Undertaker fan and any opponent for the Taker at this stage of his career (55 years old) has to do the majority of the work for him in the ring. Enter A.J. Styles, easily among top-5 in-ring performers in the world today. But remember, this is not in a ring. Another match that could have been saved for another date down the line where it would be inside the squared circle. Styles made it clear on his Mixer channel that he doesn’t like performing in front of an empty crowd. The silver lining is that Styles did say “I am so glad that my opponent is The Undertaker, because it’s an opportunity to have a different match because I don’t want to have it in an empty arena.” No matter who wins, I think we’re due for a rematch between the two most likely at next years WrestleMania.
The Undertaker has a history the same opponent in back to back WrestleMania’s (Shawn Michaels 25 & 26, Triple H 27 & 28) and Styles fits that category of being a strong possibility. Personally, I’m rooting for Taker to add to his already incredible WrestleMania resume.
2. Rhea Ripley (NXT Women’s Champion) vs. Charlotte Flair
I’m really looking forward to this match up. Ripley ended 2019 with a ton of momentum after her domination for NXT at the Survivor Series and then becoming the Women’s Champion in December. And after Charlotte won the Royal Rumble, it was Ripley who challenged Flair putting her NXT Women’s title on the line. It would make perfect sense to have Ripley win this match. Like Charlotte, WWE could have big plans for Ripley as she is only 23 years old. A prime spot for her to take down the Queen at WrestleMania. But on the flip coin WWE has to look at Charlotte being a ratings draw for NXT on Wednesday night’s especially with the uncertainty of crowds, and as a 10-time champion, she’d be one step closer to tying her father’s record of 16 times.
3. Edge vs. Randy Orton, Last Man Standing Match
Edge’s return at the Royal Rumble was amazing after retiring nearly 10 years ago due to injury. Randy Orton is one of the most under appreciated superstars in the last 18 years, and he’s a perfect heel after giving Edge’s wife Beth Phoenix an RKO on Raw last month. I think Edge will win this match, but it would be a disservice to fans by not having these two continue their rival over the next few months.
4. Brock Lesnar (WWE Champion) vs. Drew McIntyre
McIntyre, the winner of this years Royal Rumble earned the right at the WWE Championship after outlasting 30 other superstars in the Royal Rumble. The way WWE told the story of McIntyre entering the Rumble, eventually eliminating the champ, Lesnar who had previously eliminated 13 other men was perfect. McIntyre got a tremendous ovation inside Houston’s Minute Maid Park. But that’s the problem here. A moment like that needs to happen again for McIntyre to have his true “WrestleMania moment” winning the gold in front of a crowd.
5. Bayley (Smackdown Women’s Champion) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Lacey Evans vs.Tamina
Do we finally get the Sasha Banks and Bayley rival we’ve been waiting for over the last couple years? Bayley has been the Smackdown Women’s Champion since last May. It’s been teased before and seems inevitable we get Bayley and Sasha feuding on the road to Summerslam in Boston (Sasha’s hometown). Bayley will most likely drop the title and WWE can throw a curve ball with Naomi or Tamina winning, but I think they have jockeyed Lacey Evans for this position since last year getting a taste of main event status with Becky Lynch. Without a crowd here, Sasha will have to wait another year to have a big Mania moment.
6. Becky Lynch (Raw Women’s Champion) vs. Shayna Baszler
It’s crazy to think a year ago, Becky Lynch went from being in the Main Event at WrestleMania 35 at MetLife Stadium to an empty arena match this year. I still believe Shayna Baszler should have won the Royal Rumble match when she was the 30th entrant before being eliminated by eventual winner Charlotte Flair. Baszler did get into the Women’s title picture here, and she needs a win more then Becky needs to retain. This feud can continue to carry on in hopes of being in larger stadiums sooner than later (hopefully) and have Becky chase Baszler again for the title.
7. Goldberg (WWE Universal Champion) vs TBA (rumored to be Braun Strowman)
It won’t be officially announced until “Friday Night Smackdown” who Goldberg will face after Roman Reigns pulled out of the match for health reasons. I think we would all bet the house Roman would be the new champion after this one, but with him out, I can’t see Braun Strowman as a last minute replacement becoming Universal Champion. I’d love to see it, but I think FOX wants Goldberg as their champion for Smackdown and when Roman returns he will indeed make that run at Goldberg for the title.
8. Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens
Seth Rollins is in a similar position as his fiancé, Becky Lynch. Where a year ago he won the WWE Universal Championship over Brock Lesnar. Rollins has become a heel on the Raw brand and made it clear on his most recent Raw promo that he’s got more success than Kevin Owens at WrestleMania. Owens was not even on the card of last years event, and has revamped his character completely as a face. Owens needs this match more than Rollins and WWE needs to give that to KO so it can propel him back to Main Event Status.
9. John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, Firefly Fun House Match
Another out of arena match for these two. Cena’s overall success at WrestleMania is completely lopsided compared to Wyatt, who has never won on the grandest stage. We saw what John Cena did two years ago for the Undertaker at WrestleMania 34, absolutely letting the Deadman bury him in a squash match. It’s more than likely he does something here to put over The Fiend after he dropped the Universal title to Goldberg. The question is, when do we see John Cena again after this? A chase for a record breaking 17th world title in Boston at Summerslam? Stay tuned…
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