When pushed to come up with a creative way to craft a match with no fans, the WWE went way outside of the box with its main event on Night 1 of WrestleMania 36. With B-movie vibes, campy horror-movie lighting and a cinematic approach to filming a match popularized by Matt Hardy sprinkled on top, AJ Styles and The Undertaker closed out Saturday's action with a match few ever could have imagined happening on a WrestleMania card.
The stylized segment began with a cut to a graveyard and a hearse pulling in. Druids pulled a casket out, but it was Styles instead of The Undertaker. "What a ride!" Styles shouted. "I'm ready."
In a moment of pure nostalgia, The Undertaker fully channeled his "American Badass" biker persona as he rode his motorcycle down a dark road. He pulled into the graveyard, dismounted from his bike and started a slow march toward Styles.
From the moment Styles revealed he'd dug a grave, and no referee to speak of showed up, this was essentially a "buried alive" match wearing a cinematic covering. They battled all over the property and soon ended up atop the hearse, where Undertaker cut himself. Styles brought the trash talk throughout, yelling things like, "Still want some of this old man?" and other variations on that theme.
When Styles first attempted to get Undertaker to fall into the grave he'd dug, Undertaker landed a stiff right hand and flipped the script. But as Styles fell into the hole, Gallows and Anderson predictably showed up. Less predictably, the lights suddenly popped on in a shadowy building, and a whole bunch of druids popped out and surrounded The Undertaker as The OC tried to rub salt into the wound of a lopsided attack.
Undertaker fought the group off valiantly until Styles ran back into the frame and hit Undertaker in his back with a tombstone. Styles eventually speared Undertaker through a fence, complained about a broken finger, and then Styles picked up a shovel and cracked it over The Undertaker's back.
"I'm doing the world a favor," Styles said. "I'm going to bury you. Right here, right now."
Undertaker fell into the hole, and after Styles said, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," he climbed up to an earth mover filled with dirt. But that's when the supernatural side of The Undertaker came into play, as he popped up immediately behind Styles.
The action spilled up onto the roof of a dilapidated building, where Undertaker took out The OC, again, and then summoned cones of fire from the ground. Undertaker chokeslammed Styles off of the roof and through a fence, then slung Styles over his shoulder and started walking, talking smack to Styles along the way.
Styles tried to apologize, and for a moment it seemed the battle had been enough. Undertaker hugged Styles, but after walking a few steps, wheeled around and nailed a big boot, which sent Styles back into the hole. Undertaker climbed up onto the earth mover, started it up and dumped the dirt onto Styles.
The Undertaker's signature gong sounded, and he looked down to study his handiwork -- only Styles' hand was visible poking out through the dirt. He removed a cloth from a headstone, revealing that it said: AJ Styles, Rest in Peace, 1977-2020.
Undertaker's music hit, he walked away, replaced his bandanna on his head and rode away on his motorcycle. The Undertaker symbol lit up atop the roof and fire flew into the sky once more as the first night of WrestleMania went off the air.
What's next: For The Undertaker, anyone's guess. For Styles, I wouldn't imagine the effects of this attack to be too long-lasting, but he needs a definitive direction moving forward.
Universal championship: Braun Strowman def. Goldberg (c)
Strowman proves to be too much for Goldberg, Lynch retains title
Braun Strowman, Sami Zayn and Becky Lynch all come away with titles on Night 1 of WrestleMania 36 from the WWE Performance Center.
There might never have been a world title match with less build at a WrestleMania than the Universal championship bout between Goldberg and Braun Strowman, unless you count Hulk Hogan and Yokozuna's impromptu match at WrestleMania 9. But just like that bout, a last-minute challenger stormed into an unlikely match, imposed his will and left WrestleMania as the new champion.
With little more than a match graphic, Strowman was inserted in place of Roman Reigns, who bowed out of WrestleMania due to health concerns stemming from his status as a cancer survivor amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But with the match not closing the show, and such little fanfare, few expected Strowman to storm his way to victory. But that's exactly what happened.
Goldberg charged out of the gate by countering a powerslam effort and nailing three consecutive spears. That earned him only a two-count, but with a fourth spear, it appeared he was on a path similar to when he defeated Bray Wyatt for the Universal championship at Super ShowDown.
But Goldberg celebrated and got overconfident. As he tried to get Strowman up for a Jackhammer, Strowman countered with two powerslams, followed by a third, and a fourth. Just like that, Braun Strowman was crowned your new Universal champion.
What's next: The Universal championship picture is, quite frankly, a mess. With Wyatt's momentum derailed, and Reigns on the shelf for an indeterminate amount of time, Strowman's first challenger is anyone's guess. As for Goldberg, this could well and truly be it -- but we've said that before.
Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins
The Owens-Rollins saga stretches all the way back to November. It was then where Rollins questioned Owens' loyalty to Monday Night Raw as the brand-supremacy battle ensued during the Survivor Series. Owens took exception to that, and a rivalry formed, with Owens often being outnumbered with Rollins' newfound disciples Murphy and the AOP lurking. With Murphy and the AOP out of the picture in this match, Owens looked to pick up, perhaps, the biggest WrestleMania win of his career.
The match began as a slugfest with an early attempt at a curb-stomp by Rollins, but Owens sidestepped it and maintained an advantage throughout many of the early sequences. After a couple senton splashes inside the ring, Owens wheeled Rollins around and into the barricades outside of the ring, but the tide shifted when Rollins back-dropped and connected with a falcon arrow on the ring apron.
Owens got back into it, back inside the ring, via a DDT, a beautiful Swanton bomb and a pop-up powerbomb.
Sensing a potential defeat, Rollins exited the ring and nailed Owens with the ring bell, causing a disqualification, or so we thought. Owens grabbed the microphone and demanded that the match be restarted with no disqualification.
Rollins accepted and delivered a high knee to the jaw of Owens as the match was, once again, underway. Rollins was quick to capitalize on the newly added no-disqualification stipulation as he smashed the ring steps into Owens' side and assaulted him with a steel chair.
Ultimately it was also the ring bell that led to Rollins' demise. Owens caught Rollins with a couple ring-bell shots and set him up on the announcers table. He then ascended a WrestleMania sign, about 15 feet in the air above the table, and drove Rollins through the table. One stunner later and Owens had won the match.
What's next: One would think that Rollins would seek retribution in the near future and, possibly, claim he wasn't prepared for a no-disqualification match, but perhaps this was as definitive an end to this rivalry as there could be.
Ladder match for the SmackDown tag-team championships: John Morrison (c) def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso
The triple threat ladder match among John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso epitomized the strange circumstances of WrestleMania 36. Because The Miz was ruled out, the tag-team titles were put on the line in a non-tag match, and as with every other bout in the card, there were no fans to bring up the level of energy.
But despite it all, all three men put their bodies on the line in a wildly entertaining match that showcased the best of what all three are capable of. Morrison ultimately won the match in creative fashion and had what could be the highlight of the night, if not the weekend.
There were wild ladder spots throughout, and numerous jumps from each man, but the tenor and tempo of the match picked up when Kingston tried to springboard through a ladder and kick both opponents in their faces, only to get caught and tossed out of the ring.
If you looked away for even a moment, you likely missed something great. Kingston springboarded into a spinning headscissors on Morrison, who had been standing midway up a ladder. Morrison showed off his balance as he tightrope-walked from turnbuckle to turnbuckle and then hit Kingston with a top-rope Spanish fly. Then Uso hit a splash on Morrison.
Kingston double-stomped a standing Morrison from atop the ladder. When a ladder bridge was built between a standing ladder and the middle rope, Uso sent Kingston, who was going at full momentum, face-first into said bridged ladder. Morrison tried to springboard from that ladder and ate a massive Uso superkick for his trouble.
After everyone had seemingly flown everywhere into everything that was reachable both inside the ring and at ringside, they battled atop two ladders. All three had their hands on the titles and the gold.
The gold contraption holding the belts above the ring was unclipped with all three men having their hands on it. Uso and Kingston head-butted Morrison, and as Morrison fell onto the ladder bridge, he unclipped both belts and successfully retained the titles for his team.
What's next: Neither The Usos nor the New Day has a particularly strong claim to be the next solo challengers for these tag-team titles, and I'd expect a reset atop the division on the next edition of SmackDown.
Intercontinental championship: Sami Zayn (c) def. Daniel Bryan
Last month, after a career of fighting for recognition, Sami Zayn captured championship gold on the main roster. With the help of comrades Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura, Zayn pinned Braun Strowman to become the Intercontinental champion.
His opponent Saturday, Daniel Bryan, with newfound ally Drew Gulak by his side, knows what it's like to win Intercontinental championship gold at WrestleMania. At WrestleMania 31 in 2015, Bryan won a multiperson ladder match to take the title. Would history repeat itself Saturday?
After a cat-and-mouse routine by Zayn and a brawl among Cesaro, Nakamura and Gulak at ringside, Bryan finally caught up to Zayn and the match officially began. As Zayn tried to squirm out of the ring, Bryan got some serious licks in, including a beautiful suicide dive to the outside of the ring and a missile dropkick back inside the ring.
Zayn picked up the pace a little bit and went on the offensive thanks to a back elbow, but Bryan rebounded pretty quickly and started laying some really stiff kicks and stomps on the champion.
But Bryan took his eye off the ball and it cost him. When Cesaro and Nakamura resurfaced and attacked Gulak, Bryan took them both out with another suicide dive. As he made his way back into the ring and attempted a top-rope maneuver, Zayn caught him with a variation of his Helluva Kick to the chin and managed to retain his title.
What's next: This rivalry seems far from over. Considering all of the chaos at ringside, expect the Artist Collective trio to continue clashing with Bryan and Gulak in the coming weeks.
Raw women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) def. Shayna Baszler
In the main event of WrestleMania 35, Becky Lynch defeated both Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair. One year later, under drastically different circumstances and positioning on the WrestleMania 36 card, Lynch successfully defended the Raw women's championship against Shayna Baszler and all but guaranteed her title reign would stretch past the one-year mark.
Baszler was on a massive wave of momentum after attacking Lynch and then running through her opponents in February's Elimination Chamber match. But what appeared to be a path to the coronation of a new main-roster star ultimately didn't come to fruition.
After Lynch drove up to the building in her custom big rig, she wasted very little time before mixing it up with Baszler. They exchanged a flurry of punches and kicks in the opening moments of the match, and the overarching theme of the match was intense physicality.
Baszler briefly or nearly locked in the Kirifuda clutch a half-dozen times, but in between threw knees from almost every conceivable angle. She hit a modified version of her double underhook Yokosuka cutter, and even used it as a fake-out to set up an armbar at one point.
The submission transitions between their two finishers and a variety of other moves were slick, and Baszler showed her strength when she picked Lynch up into a powerbomb position and swung Lynch headfirst into the commentary table.
Baszler finally locked her first extended Kirifuda clutch attempt when she reached from inside the ring and grabbed Lynch on the apron and over top rope. Lynch briefly locked in the Dis-arm-her, but Baszler swung up and over and locked in the Kirifuda clutch again. Lynch used her weight and momentum to leverage herself onto Baszler while Baszler still had the submission locked in, and held Baszler there long enough to earn the flash pinfall victory.
What's next: Everything pointed toward Baszler's instant ascent to the top of the Raw women's division. Even though it was a fluky way to end the match, she'll have to go back to the drawing board. As for Lynch, she'll need a fresh challenger, but there's no clear solution in the immediate aftermath of this match.
Elias def. King Corbin
At first it appeared there would not be a match. Corbin entered and demanded that his hand be raised, because Elias was absent (and presumably injured) after Corbin threw him off a high balcony last week on SmackDown.
But, of course, Elias was there. His music hit, then he hit Corbin across the back with his guitar. The match commenced.
Elias won with a flash rollup -- with a handful of tights -- after reversing Corbin's attempt at a pinfall with his feet on the ropes.
The match was fine for what it was. Both worked hard, but it dragged a bit late. They also went to the well too many times with the through-the-turnbuckle-to-the-post spot. After Elias' initial offense at the beginning, Corbin spent an extended time getting heat on him. Elias' comeback was halted by some Corbin chicanery and then the dirty pin attempt, which led into the finish.
What's next: This was kind of filler, which would be fine on most other shows. With this being WrestleMania, the expectations should be higher. On the other hand, WWE has been dealt plenty of unforeseen circumstances. Corbin will likely ascend back to his role as one of the top heels on SmackDown. Elias could use a refresh. He's better as a heel whom people embrace rather than a babyface.
Women's tag-team championships: Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. Kabuki Warriors (c)
Asuka, Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss brought a well-paced, high-energy effort that serves as a big reminder of why the women's tag-team championships shouldn't have been almost entirely cast aside thus far in 2020.
Bliss and Cross walked out of WrestleMania 36 as the new champs, but all four women took full advantage of the showcase opportunity to open the show. From all manner of moves from the top ropes and apron, including somersaults and spinning headscissors, to big combinations, nothing was left on the table.
The longest stretch of the match saw Asuka and Sane isolate Bliss and show off some impressive tag-team synergy. That's even more impressive considering they haven't defended the women's tag-team championships on TV since December, and have had had only two tag-team title defenses on live events in 2020.
Everything picked up as the match wound down to a close. Once Cross got back into the match, and landed a swinging neckbreaker on Asuka, Sane had to run to the top rope and land an In-Sane elbow to break the count. Asuka quickly grabbed the advantage, but as Cross got into the Asuka Lock, Bliss broke up the effort with a Twisted Bliss.
Asuka eventually tagged herself in and set up a slick-looking powerbomb/top rope-flying forearm combination to Cross, but only got a two-count. In the ensuing scramble, Asuka was sent out of the ring, Cross hit another swinging neckbreaker on Sane, and Bliss hit a second Twisted Bliss and the match was won.
What's next: More women's tag-team title matches, one hopes. Asuka and Sane are among the most talented in-ring performers on the roster, and whether they run it back for the belts or go their own way, they proved on Saturday night why they're such valuable assets. Bliss and Cross proved that they can really hang when given the time to tell a great story, and the possibilities for potential challengers on all three brands are almost endless.
Cesaro def. Drew Gulak
Ahead of Saturday night's Intercontinental championship match between Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn, Bryan ally Drew Gulak and Artist Collective member Cesaro began the action at WrestleMania 36.
The two in-ring technicians kicked things off at full speed as Cesaro illustrated his strength advantage with an impressive tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and a powerbomb. Neither was enough to put Gulak down, though, and Gulak continually worked Cesaro's arm.
Cesaro fought through the pain, however, and despite not being able to execute his Neutralizer finisher (because of the injured arm), he improvised and hit an armless airplane spin maneuver to pick up the win.
This was Cesaro's first victory at WrestleMania since WrestleMania 31 in 2015.