It takes a wealth of cognitive dissonance to watch wrestling in normal times. Like pretending one person hitting another with a chair precisely in the back is a reasonable way to end a discussion. Or that a figure-four would really hurt. Or that Asuka wouldn’t straight up murder everyone in her path simply because she was bored (still working on this one).
This gets additional layers added to it in current times. It’s apparent to everyone that both WWE and AEW should probably not be producing live content at the moment. Even if they’ve taken “precautions,” it’s still a group of production and TV people in one place that doesn’t really have to be, not even mentioning the people doing the work in the ring. The ones in the ring have at least signed up to take the risk. Not sure the production people have.
But here we are, and whatever the questions we might have or the discomfort one gets from thinking about any of this too hard, the most unique WrestleMania is going ahead this weekend. In fact, it’s already done so, as for the first time WWE filmed it in advance and will screen it over two nights. Despite what they might tell you, it’s clear that WWE (and AEW with its weekly show) saw a TV landscape lacking in new production and thought it could profit. Its agreements with Fox and Fite.tv to distribute WrestleMania on their platforms only cements that.
So, what’s in store for anyone even curious? That’s harder to pin down. WWE could do just about anything with this, and according to some reports they have. Some matches will look as close to normal as they can without a crowd. And some will be cinematic. Whenever WWE has had license to do anything, it usually does anything bad. Whatever it is, it’s likely that nothing will look like this again.
So let’s run the card and see where we could end up.
Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler
Almost certainly on one of the pre-shows, this was a cute little puppy-dog love story between Otis, who looks like someone took Ray Jackson from Bloodsport and briefly ran him through a car crusher, and cliche-WWE blonde bombshell Mandy Rose. Of course, Dolph interfered and now we have this blowoff. Dolph’s role for a while now has been to eat big moves from big guys, and it’s hard to see how this goes any differently here.
Boneyard Match: Undertaker vs. AJ Styles
This is one of two matches that apparently have gotten the cinematic treatment, as well as the Beavis-mode of people saying “bone” a lot. Like one of the main events (maybe?), this was a result of Undertaker being drafted out to Saudi Arabia for an oil tanker of money and doing 45 seconds of work because a Saudi prince remembered him from his childhood.
For some reason, Vince McMahon thought he would keep this going, and brought Taker back to do about a minute and a half at the last PPV, Elimination Chamber. And because there are only two levers in Vince’s office when it comes to storylines, he pulled the one that says, “Insult family.” So that’s what Styles has been doing for the past month, slandering Undertaker’s real life wife Michelle McCool. Styles has also been pointing out that ‘Taker has barely been able to move for about five years now and isn’t what he used to be, because to be a heel in WWE now means you just point out what’s true and logical.
Anyway, there’s no way they’re going to have Undertaker lose a match that’s actually in a graveyard. The only question is just how adventurous WWE wants to get with its production. In order to make ‘Taker look ambulatory, the answer is “heavily.” Like a lot of this card, the spectrum of possibilities and quality is massive.
Firefly Funhouse Match: The Fiend vs. John Cena
This is the other one that’s going to get the theatrical production, which could go anywhere. It’s had no build, but Cena has been one of Bray Wyatt’s biggest fans in the past and seems here to help Wyatt reclaim the allure of The Fiend, which the company borked hardcore. Cena isn’t sticking around, so it makes no sense for him to bury The Fiend here. Has to be an improvement on the House Of Horrors match, the last time Wyatt attempted the theatrical. Maybe a second whack at it is all that’s required. Then again, there’s nothing sensical about any of this.
Last Man Standing Match: Edge vs. Randy Orton
This devolving into a complete street brawl might overcome having no crowd, or be completely destroyed by it. Edge’s return at the Royal Rumble was genuinely one of the most touching moments in the industry in years, and it’s a shame he won’t get to pay it off in front of a crowd at his first Mania in nearly a decade. But he’s going to be around for longer, so another moment should come for him. Once again, this has been built off of someone (Orton) slandering and physically attacking the other’s wife (Beth Phoenix) because again, two levers. Figures to spill into a parking lot and/or elsewhere, with Edge going over to be positioned for bigger things down the line.
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
Two of the best workers in the company have been dancing toward and around each other for months now, in one of the few matches to have a proper build that didn’t involve calling each other by their real names or talking about their significant others. This could bring a house down under normal circumstances...except it would probably be in the middle of a six-hour show when most of the crowd is already transitioning into being hungover. Should be good anyhow, and Seth would seem to be perfectly positioned to deal with a new Raw champion with a win here, while Owens can always move on to something else given the excellent talker that he is.
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
No one has any idea why this is happening, including the participants. Seems like an excuse to boost Black, which is more than fine, and he should make Lashley look like a defeated rock ‘em sock ‘em robot in no more than a couple minutes here. Possibly a platform for Black to face larger, more esteemed opponents down the line to actually get him doing something of consequence. Which is what the world needs now.
Elias vs King Corbin
This is when I’ll be installing a bidet in my bathroom. If this is still going when I’m done, I’ll just stick my head in the toilet.
Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan for Intercontinental Championship
Exciting and depressing at the same time, which is a metaphor for just about anything you want it to be, from WWE to the wider world. These are two of the best in the company, but Zayn hasn’t been allowed to show that in years, recently being part of a triumvirate with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura that simply represent the entire concept of ennui. All three of them either were or could be the coolest wrestler in the world, and all have been reduced to playing background trees, at best. Bryan has spent the past year or so deciding who he wants to make look like a million bucks, be it Kofi Kingston in last year’s best Mania moment or AJ Styles’s only use for the past three years or the Usos. Hopefully this is him realizing what a waste Zayn has been in WWE and lending his magic to fix that. If given time and flexibility, it will almost certainly be the match of this whole mess.
Until then, watch this to remember what Sami is capable of.
Women’s Tag Team Championship: Asuka and Kairi Sane vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
WWE has never realized what it has in Asuka and Sane, the Kabuki Warriors, mostly because McMahon thinks his fans hate ’ferners, or does himself, or both. That hasn’t stopped them from using Asuka and her hilarious screaming as a sideshow on these crowdless shows in recent weeks. But that won’t translate to the actual ring, where both she and Sane would run circles around their opponents under normal circumstances. It also didn’t help that Sane got concussed in their only PPV appearance in the main event slot and staggered through the rest of the match, making for pretty uncomfortable viewing. You might not believe that WWE would make them pay for that, but McMahon would eat the tooth fairy. This is their chance to get them off TV completely, and it’s likely they’ll do so.
Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Miz and John Morrison vs. The Usos vs. The New Day...Maybe
This one is reportedly changed, and no one has any idea how. The Miz showed up to the taping with a fever and was sent home, in WWE’s barely noticeable nod to putting everyone’s safety first. So no one’s quite sure how this one is going to actually work. Given McMahon’s aversion to giving tag teams any kind of attention, whatever it is will be excellent beer-run fodder.
Raw Tag Team Championship: The Street Profits vs. Angel Garza and Austin Theory
Another one made up at the last minute thanks to Andrade’s quarantine, almost certainly destined for a pre-show slot. No one’s sure how the Street Profits got here, but certainly happy they did. And factors like indifference to a tag team division, people getting sick, and whatever else has conspired to keep them here. So it will continue, as they’re not losing to a team just put together out of what they discovered in the NXT lost-and-found.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Tamina
Yet another match pulled out of a hat randomly, simply as an excuse to air out a bunch of women stuck in the closet. The hope is that it will be some kind of platform to get Bayley and Sasha Banks into a program to try and recreate their industry-turning work from NXT. But it feels like that ship has sailed, as Bayley has just never quite worked in front of the wider and more conservative WWE audience. This feels like McMahon’s chance to get the title on his MAGA Barbie fantasy Lacey Evans, even though she can’t retrieve her mail without falling over or remembering where the mailbox is.
Raw Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Bazler
If there’s one performer who might benefit from there being no crowd, it’s Bazler. While an NXT god, her introduction to the WWE universe has been wonky at best. First she won a paint-by-numbers, Geneva-Convention-violation-boring triple threat over Becky and Bayley at Survivor Series. When she showed up on the main roster full time, it was to bob for apples in Lynch’s neck with enough fake blood that even the Addams children were raising an eyebrow. She then ran through everyone at Elimination Chamber, which felt like overcompensation for the askew rollout. A win in front of a crowd would be met with boos not because she’s a heel going over the face of the company that is Lynch, but because they just don’t like her (not that WWE has ever been able or cared to tell the difference). Making her look like the badass she is without a crowd revolt might be the reboot she needs at the top level. And Lynch has gotten up her own ass a touch and probably could use the mini-reset as well.
NXT Championship: Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte
Ripley might be the entire company’s fastest rising star, which is how she got a Mania match despite not even being on the main roster. Charlotte facing either Bayley or Becky again would have been rote and uninspiring, so this was at least an interesting choice. It’’ll be more interesting if Charlotte actually tries, which she hasn’t done in at least a year and a half. You could see Charlotte winning here and being on NXT for a bit to boost their ratings against AEW, while Ripley’s star won’t be snuffed out very much with a glorious loss. Or they use it to boost her even more and make her the ratings attraction on NXT. But that would take imagination and balls, neither of which WWE creative can spell. Charlotte has brought two memorable Mania matches in the past, and if she’s in that mood again this could be a classic. If she’s the bored, entitled, walkthrough she’s been lately, you can talk to your loved ones for a bit.
WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre
On the other side of the spectrum from Shayna Bazler is McIntyre. His rise to main event status was based in finding a connection with live crowds during a face-turn, and his Rumble win was a feel-good moment. The thread here is supposed to finish with him getting the title in front of 70,000 willing him to victory and sharing the moment together. That’s how these things go, much like Kofi Kingston’s crowning last year. He still very well could be anointed the main man in an empty room, and most everyone would be glad to have that send Lesnar away again so he can stop bothering us. But WWE loves its “moments” and it’s hard to have that with no crowd. Could easily see them saving that “moment” for later in the year. Fuck, they ran Lesnar and Roman Reign eleventy-billion times chasing that “moment.”
And to be fair to Bork, when he wants to, his matches tend to bring it, especially if he’s excited by the opponent. If only for seven minutes at most.
WWE Universal Championship: Goldberg vs….Someone
It was supposed to be Roman Reigns, but he withdrew as he’s recovering from leukemia and didn’t want to risk his compromised immune system, in just about the only strain of logic and sense to invade the WWE world in weeks. Rumor has it that he was replaced with Braun Stroman, so I’ll just let Big E sum that up:
Goldberg, like Undertaker, shows up in Saudi Arabia to stagger around like he can’t find the bathroom section of Home Depot before taking home another oil tanker of money. That’s how he got here with the title, as he neutered The Fiend to the point they had to call in John Cena to fix it. Stroman, if he is indeed the opponent here, had his moment about two years ago that WWE cowered from pulling the trigger on fully, and has basically been an afterthought since. But he’s on the show regularly and can actually perform without nearly killing whoever he’s working with, or concussing himself, so he’d be an improvement on Goldberg. Who the fuck knows where this will go and even more, who the fuck cares? Let’s all be relieved it can’t go more than four minutes, otherwise Goldberg would turn a shade unseen since Yellow Submarine.
That’s your WrestleMania setup. It’s not like we have much else to do. Sadly, that’s how WWE is probably going to treat this, too.