Oh God, we’re nearly there.
I want to go on record as saying that this is a mistake. I’ll admit that it’s not exactly a fresh take, nor particularly insightful, but after a certain point, what else is there to say? WrestleMania should not be happening. Don’t get me wrong: I’m going to watch it. Of course I’m going to watch it: it’s like all the most negative qualities of WWE have been distilled into one night…oh, I’m sorry: two nights, because WRESTLEMANIA IS TOO BIG FOR ONE NIGHT, APPARENTLY. And that’s the sort of errant madness that I was never going to be able to keep myself from staring at in a kind of fascinated horror; it’s like a car crash, but also the cars are having sex, and there’s also clowns, and they’re also having sex. It’s just a lot of death and sex and clowns, and one of the clowns is a lot older than the others, and he’s getting rather tired and sweaty just from walking to the ring, and he’s not really able to do a jackhammer anymore.
But a part of me – the more responsible and adult part of me that has to care about things like my mortgage and home insurance – has to be honest and say that WWE should be behaving far more responsibly. I mean, it’s older than me. WrestleMania itself is seven years older than I am, which according to my parents’, teachers’, and the scoutmaster from that one really bad camping trip’s logic means it knows better than I do. And yet here we are, and “here” is somewhere in the realm of the Miz showing up to work, symptoms on display, and interacting with former cancer-sufferer, Roman Reigns.
I don’t even have a point beyond “I don’t think that this is a good idea”, but it seemed really important that I at least mention that before I go back to laughing at the strange and weird world that is World Wrestling Entertainment. I suppose that none of us can claim that we’re surprised by this turn of events. This is, after all, the same wrestling company that put on a performance two days after 9/11 and kept things rolling right along when one of their performers fell to their death in front of thousands of people. If nothing else, WWE’s white-knuckled, bloody-minded, wild-eyed adherence to the fact that the show must go on is one of the company’s most consistent qualities.
The one thing that I’ll add, purely for the sake of comparison, is that during the period that my flatmate and I have been quarantined, we started writing a play in which a prop gun is swapped for a real gun, which kills one of the play’s actors. The rest of the actors, for reasons that are never made clear, then continue on with the show, trying to pretend that nothing is wrong and that everything’s still going as planned. That play is intended to be a dark comedy, which takes an absurd premise and moves on from there with remorseless logic.
That is the definition of a farce, it’s hopefully going to be funny because the audience will understand that there’s not actually a dead body onstage. What’s happening presently is real life.
The Miz spreading the Coronavirus is a masterclass of heel heat
The WWE Performance Centre, last holdout against the plague, is set up with a bunch of ladders. Maybe they’re going to be used to shore up defences against those who are desperately seeking sanctuary among the big, meaty men. It may also have something to do with the Tag Team Ladder match at WrestleMania, I suppose.
Greg Hamilton is about to introduce the Miz and Morrison, but the Usos beat him to it, making their own way out, announcing that they’ll be the Tag Team Champions once VirusMania is done. They’re followed quickly by two-thirds of the New Day, who clearly take exception to the Usos not-quite-misplaced confidence. This devolves into an argument about who was going to win the tag team match last week, and it seems as though we’re about to get a re-run of the match itself, when the Miz emerges with Morrison onto the ramp, clearing his throat. Under the circumstances, those are not good optics.
Miz rails against the disrespect shown to him and Morrison as Tag Team Champions, but promises that it’s not going to make any difference: they’ll still be leaving the Show of Shows as Champions. He states that the Usos’ and New Day’s weakness is their need to compete against each other, and that’s going to allow him and Morrison to climb up and reclaim their titles. They actually climb up the ladders on the stage, I guess to provide a visual demonstration for any viewers without either an imagination or memory.
The Usos and the New Day head up the ramp for a brawl, and it seems like it might be a bad day to be the Miz and Morrison until the Miz ducks a superkick from one Uso (which usually rates about an 8 on the Shawn Michaels Scale), which hits Kofi, who had been holding onto him. Big E sees this, and I guess he’s somehow never seen this exact situation in wrestling before, which hints at some incredibly selective viewing. At any rate, he goes after the Usos as well, and the divided forces allow the Miz and Morrison to take advantage, eliminating the competition before standing triumphant.
We’ve already got our first use of “too big for one night”. Elias vs. King Corbin needed to have a murder attempt hastily thrust into it to even justify its place on the card, which it still hasn’t.
You’d think Naomi, of all people, would be able to counter a superkick
Here’s Naomi, who’s going to be one part of a Triple Threat match against fellow wrestler Tamina and whatever it is that we can legally call Lacey Evans. Sasha and Bayley are on commentary, which I’m sure isn’t suspect at all. Lacey does approach the announce table as she makes her entrance, but it’s only so that she can put her bonnet on Michael Cole’s head.
Okay, that did make me chuckle.
I’m very glad that Tamina’s entrance video involves her name in massive letters on the screens, because otherwise I’d be tremendously confused until she came out. Anyway, the match starts, and Lacey and Naomi try to beat down Tamina, but she more or less bulls through the assault before taking her aggression out on the pair of them, who are knocked to the floor as we head to a commercial break.
When we return, Lacey is down, and Naomi is feeling Tamina’s wrath, unable to rally. Meanwhile, Cole is trying to drive a wedge between Sasha and Bayley, I guess because lockdown measures mean that his only diversion now is manipulating his coworkers. Naomi finally blasts Tamina with a Disaster Kick, dropping the big lass to her knees. Lacey charges her with a series of back elbows, finally putting Tamina on her back.
Evans continues to press her advantage against Tamina, utilising a sloppy vaulting elbow drop. Lacey and Naomi finally brawl on the outside, with Sasha getting involved and suffering for it as Naomi kicks her head off. Naomi then tries to capitalise against a stirring Tamina, hitting her with a volley of kicks before a Samoan Drop stops her momentum cold.
Now Tamina misses a charge into the corner, but Naomi is hung up on the ropes by an interfering Bayley. Tamina takes advantage with a superkick, which must rank pretty highly on the Shawn Michaels Scale of Superkick Effectiveness, because that wins Tamina the match.
Good God, Tamina won a match. On SmackDown. In 2020. I fear for us all.
This was fine, and I guess it was smart to offer a taste of what’s to come without getting Bayley and Sasha too involved. 2.5 Stars.
Post-match, Bayley enters the ring and seems to be extending the hand of friendship to Tamina. I guess once WrestleMania’s over, Tamina is just going to be gone for several months anyway, so it’s a smart investment.
Tamina shakes the hand, then nails Bayley with a superkick instead. Sasha heads into the ring to help her friend, then notices that every part of Tamina’s body language and facial expression suggests that she’s about to get murdered. Banks gamely tries to remind Tamina of the good old days of Team B.A.D., which even Naomi didn’t think was worth the effort, and her efforts win her the grand prize of one Samoan Drop. It’s almost like Tamina remembers that Banks walked out of that stable in order to pursue her own Championship dreams. For God’s sake, that led to Team B.A.D. and Blonde, and you don’t just forget something like that.
Admittedly, I completely forgot about Team B.A.D and Blonde, and I’m pretty sure that all of you did too. But Tamina actually had to do it.
We see Tucker working out backstage before that interference thing flashes up again, this time with the words “the truth will be revealed”. I mean, could it hurry up? And by “it”, I feel confident in saying that I mean “Mustafa Ali”.
And now it’s time for Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair, featuring two men who proved that retirement matches still mean nothing whatsoever in wrestling. And yes, Flair had definitely slowed down by this point in his life (I think that we can all agree that Shawn Michaels made a deal with the devil to be an incredibly good wrestler forever, which would explain why he’s got so into Christianity during the second half of his career), but this match ran on emotion, and the final superkick and “I’m sorry, I love you” was excellent.
And considering that Flair was 59 years old at the time and put on what is honestly a damn decent match, Goldberg’s and the Undertaker’s recent efforts seem even less excusable in comparison.
We’re taken back to King Corbin committing not-even-his-first murder attempt in WWE last week. I love that neither this nor his actions against Dean Ambrose prevented him from going to WrestleMania. Hell, trying to kill Ambrose actually got him the match.
And then we see a graphic to show Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman.
Is…is that it?
Mother of God, I don’t believe it. WWE managed to find an even lazier way to create this match than the way that the original match was formed. It’s literally just a picture. What, having Goldberg address the absence of his opponent, asking “who’s next” and having Braun Strowman appear and annihilate him was too difficult to arrange? Doing an interview with Roman Reigns where he named Braun Strowman as the only other man that he believed stood a chance of beating Goldberg would have required too much effort? Would Goldberg demanding a new opponent from Triple H tonight, Trips trying to book himself in the match and Braun demolishing him have been a little too avant-garde?
It’s almost funny, because I said a few weeks ago that WWE is capable of some great stuff when their backs are up against the wall. And now, we get this.
I’d be even a little happier if I’d thought that Braun would win, because then we’d have Reigns and Strowman as huge stars once things returned to normal. And a heel Strowman as Universal Champion would be perfect: months of outlasting and making stars out of a host of other wrestlers before Roman finally returns to renew the rivalry and have a final, definitive clash with his old nemesis. But I’d be willing to bet money on Goldberg defeating Braun, and that is just going to be the piss-stained cherry on the turd sundae that WWE has served.
And…and we just move away from that, heading backstage to see Otis ask Tucker not to murder Ziggler too hard tonight, so he can get a piece of him this weekend. Tucker mentions that Mandy was asking about Otis, then Otis gets a text. His text tone is the exact same sound as the Anonymous RAW General Manager’s alert sound, as a matter of interest. It’s probably nothing.
Whatever that text was about, Otis looks cheerful about it, ambling off somewhere without explanation. Until we’re told otherwise, I’m absolutely certain that text came from Kevin Nash.
This is the great American novel for our generation
After the break, Tucker makes his way to the ring alone, followed by Ziggler, and the match is on. My enthusiasm for everything WWE must have been tainted by the apathy that’s characterised the Universal Championship since Wyatt lost it, because I just do not care about any of this now.
Basically, Ziggler bounces around for Tucker, then manages to take advantage and clamps on a headlock. Tucker manages to escape, catapulting Ziggler into the corner and Brogue Kicking him, only to miss a charge into the same corner and eat a DDT.
After a commercial break, Ziggler starts off in control, only for Tucker’s power to send him sprawling to the outside. Tucker throws him around the ringside area, into the barricade and the steel steps, before taking him back into the ring for a big side slam. Back on the outside, Ziggler rakes Tucker’s eyes before hitting him with a Zigzag onto the steel steps. That apparently is enough to warrant a DQ. Sure: why not?
Tucker and Ziggler are definitely great talents, but this match didn’t matter. Just like the Universal Championship. 2 Stars.
After the match, Ziggler grabs half of the ring steps, apparently fixing on making a Tucker sandwich with some stainless steel bread. This seems unwarranted: Ziggler’s not even angry at Tucker. Honestly, he doesn’t even seem to be angry at Otis. He’s just a dick. So why is he trying to injure Tucker all of a sudden? For God’s sake: Mandy Rose is not worth this, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want it. The poor woman just wants to date.
Mandy and Sonya then actually show up on the stage, begging Dolph to stop, then Otis chases him away. Oh, and the interference is back again, and apparently “the truth will be heard”. Imagine my relief.
We’re taken to a room backstage which shows a hooded figure sitting in front of five screens and two laptops. Two of these are showing Mustafa Ali’s blue circle of light, four are showing green text on a black background, and one of them – I swear to God that I am not making this up – is showing a Matrix-themed screensaver.
I genuinely have no words. This is the greatest, stupidest thing that I’ve ever seen. For God’s sake, he’s got two QWERTY keyboards in addition to the two laptop keyboards. That’s four whole keyboards for one man. Every aspect of this is just raising more and more questions.
Apparently Otis, Sonya, Mandy, and Ziggler can see this as well, and it’s nice to know that I’ve not been going mad for the past few weeks. The chair spins around and…oh, Jesus Christ, he’s got a mask and voice changer! Is the Mustafa Ali symbol to throw idiots, i.e. WWE employees, off the scent? Why not just put him in a Guy Fawkes mask?
Oh wow, I needed this. I’d forgotten how utterly dreadful WWE could be when they really put the effort in. This is perfect; I’m on cloud nine right now.
Anyway, the Masked Avenger says that the truth will be heard. He then shows us some footage from cameras of…is that the woman’s locker room? So, wait, this guy has access to footage from locker rooms from at least one arena? How long was he spying on his female coworkers before realising that he’d stumbled onto something storyline-relevant?
The footage shows Mandy talking to Sonya about Otis, sounding quite taken with the big lug. Sonya tells Mandy that she supports her, but then we’re shown her immediately picking up the phone once Mandy leaves, texting Otis. She speaks the text aloud as she sends it, almost as if she knew that this would one day be used against her and she wanted to make it extra incriminating. We’re then shown Otis replying to the text, and I’d like to thank Definitely-Not-Mustafa-Ali for going the extra mile in order to present a complete narrative. Sonya is then shown deleting the messages, literally saying “delete, delete”, like she’s joined the fucking Cybermen.
Oh, and more footage from another location. God, there’s not many reasons for our mystery hacker to be gaining access to this many cameras, and they’re all very bad ones. This compromised camera shows Sonya promising Dolph Ziggler that he’ll get what he wants and she’ll get what she wants. It’s not quite Trish Stratus offering to knock Christy Hemme out so that Viscera can rape her – a real WWE segment – but it is pretty incriminating.
Mandy is staring at Sonya, Dolph is staring into space, but then Otis chases him off before going to tend to Tucker.
This whole segment has been a rollercoaster.
And it’s not over! Mandy is backstage, walking away from Sonya, who seems devastated at not being able to explain herself. Every great drama has an epilogue, I guess.
Please, sir, I want some more
Okay, time for some real wrestling, based on human logic. Daniel Bryan is here to wrestle Shinsuke Nakamura, because it’s Dream Match O’Clock. All the indie lads get into the ring, and it’s go-time.
Bryan and Shinsuke tussle, with Bryan quickly going after Nakamura’s legs as a pre-emptive defence against getting his head kicked in. Nakamura then goes after Bryan’s arm but runs into a big dropkick from the former WWE Champion. Shinsuke’s sent sprawling to the outside, and Daniel drops him with a knee from the ring apron.
Back in the ring, Bryan catches the Artist with a missile dropkick, keeping the heat turned up until Nakamura manages to block a hurricanrana from the top rope, following up on that counter with a flying knee from the top rope. He goes to work on Bryan, hitting Bad Vibrations and his sliding German suplex as we head into the commercial break.
When we come back, Bryan is mid-rally, knocking Shinsuke down with a clothesline before going to work with kicks of his own. Nakamura manages to dodge the final one, wrapping himself around Daniel before straight-up battering him with a barrage of knees. He returns the favour to Bryan with a volley of kicks of his own, which Bryan manages to quickly counter by grabbing the leg.
Now Bryan’s in full submission mode, trying to weaken Nakamura’s arm. He counters a reverse exploder suplex, but doesn’t manage to avoid a running kick to the face. Nakamura’s second attempt at the reverse exploder works, but the Kinshasa is countered by Bryan into a half-crab, with Shinsuke only just reaching the ropes.
We get some outstanding chain wrestling from both men, the highlight of which is Nakamura turning a clothesline into an armbar, which Bryan turns into an armbar of his own before transitioning into a Yes Lock. Cesaro breaks up the hold for the DQ, which leads to Gulak attacking the Swiss Cyborg.
This was a great match, particularly on free TV, and I can’t wait until the full PPV edition. 4 Stars.
Cesaro breaks out of the Gu-Lock by straight-up dumping Gulak over the barricade, then catches a flying Bryan before slamming him onto the announce table. Drew is then thrown into the steps before Daniel takes a Neutraliser, a Kinshasa, and a Helluva Kick. Bryan is left lying on the canvas as Zayn, Cesaro, and Nakamura celebrate.
Bray Wyatt outta nowhere
We’re shown a recap of last week’s Firefly Fun House, when Bray challenged John Cena to a Firefly Fun House match at WrestleMania. I’m keen to find out what that match is, though my hopes aren’t high after AJ Styles explained that a Boneyard match was pretty much just a no-DQ match in a cemetery.
Cena arrives, running down to the ring and picking up a microphone. He says that WWE made the decision to continue without an audience and that, together, they’ve all navigated this uncertainty and have arrived at a completely unprecedented WrestleMania. He says that no-one knows what’s going to happen, and that he still doesn’t know what a Firefly Fun House match is.
Cena says that the Fiend wants him to be uncertain and to panic, but that he won’t panic and he’s not afraid. He promises to finish the job he started six years ago, whatever kind of match that it is, then goes on to devalue both Wyatt and the Fiend so much that he actually has to lose this match. He finally accepts the challenge, then we see Ramblin’ Rabbit and the other puppets at ringside, telling Cena that he’s going to play with them forever and ever.
Then the lights go out, and when they come on, we’re shown the Fiend standing on the Performance Centre balcony, staring at Cena. And then, suddenly, Sweater!Bray is right next to Cena, demanding to be let in.
Wow, that is the first good jumpscare I’ve seen in years. I’ll admit: a strong note to finish the show on.
Tags: 5 Woman Elimination Match, bayley, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan vs. Sami Zayn, Daniel Bryan vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Dolph Ziggler, Drew Gulak, Elias vs. King Corbin, Firefly Fun House match, Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman, Heavy Machinery, John Cena, John Cena vs. The Fiend, Lacey Evans, Mandy Rose, naomi, sami zayn, sasha banks, Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Tamina vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown, Sonya Deville, tamina, The Fiend, The Miz and Morrison, The Miz and Morrison vs. The New Day vs. The Usos, The New Day, the usos, Totally-not-Mustafa-Ali, Triple Threat Tag Team Ladder match, Tucker vs. Dolph Ziggler, wrestlemania, Wrestlemania 36, WWE, WWE Performance Centre