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As far as surprises are concerned, WWE WrestleMania 36 Night 1 delivered them in spades.
It was a wild WrestleMania from start to finish, one that managed to put reality on pause for a few hours and entertain the masses. Considering the current circumstances, WWE did the best it could to produce the best pay-per-view possible and it can be argued that the company accomplished that.
The event was highlighted by a unique Boneyard match with The Undertaker and AJ Styles where no one knew what to expect going in. Goldberg also defended his Universal Championship against Braun Strowman, who was randomly announced as Roman Reigns’ replacement at the end of Friday’s SmackDown.
In so many words, WrestleMania 36 Part 1 could have easily gone either way but thankfully wound up being a blast. The empty arena setting was an obvious setback, but otherwise, the match quality was top-notch and there were enough moments to make the show worthwhile.
Fans feared that the pre-taped nature of the event would result in spoilers leaking and ruin any remaining excitement they had for The Granddaddy of Them All, but that didn’t end up being an issue whatsoever. Due to most of the matches being unpredictable, there was no telling what would happen next.
There is still plenty of action to look forward to when WrestleMania 36 presents the rest of its stacked card on Sunday night, but until then, these five shockers from the first half should be enough to keep fans buzzing.
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You had to know the 24/7 Championship was going to have a presence on the pay-per-view in some form or fashion.
WWE expressed a renewed interest in spotlighting the 24/7 Championship as a more serious title before the empty arena shows began. In recent weeks, the belt has basically been nonexistent on their programming, aside from R-Truth regaining the gold from Riddick Moss on a sidewalk at an undisclosed location.
Sure enough, Truth resurfaced at WrestleMania 36 in a segment with event host Rob Gronkowski and Mojo Rawley, who Truth previously feuded with over the belt earlier this year. The only way it was going to end was with Truth losing the championship, but Gronk seemed to be a likelier option given his celebrity status.
Instead, Rawley shoved Gronk off Truth and stole the win for himself before scurrying off. No word on what this means for the friendship between Gronk and Rawley, but it was certainly an interesting turn of events, if nothing else.
Rawley was never booked to look strong as 24/7 champion, so another run with the title for him doesn’t present many exciting possibilities. Gronk as a champ in WWE would have been a sight to see, but perhaps that mainstream media moment is being saved for down the road.
Say, SummerSlam in Boston?
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When Sami Zayn bested Braun Strowman (albeit in fluky fashion) for the Intercontinental Championship at last month’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, he wasn’t expected to hold the gold for very long.
He had been a perennial loser for the better part of his heel run since 2017 in addition to being slotted as a sidekick for Shinsuke Nakamura until recently. He’s taken center stage on SmackDown and has proven to be a fun foil for Daniel Bryan.
It was at WrestleMania five years ago that Bryan became the Intercontinental champion for the first time. He had to relinquish the title no more than a month later due to injury, so it only made sense for him to regain the gold at the exact same event against an inferior opponent five years later.
Bryan and Zayn were having an enjoyable encounter, but it was the interference from Nakamura and Cesaro that led to Zayn securing the win and living to fight as Intercontinental champion for another day. His days with the title are definitely numbered, but at least he can say he successfully defended his precious prize on the grandest stage of them all.
He didn’t beat any ordinary schmuck, either. Bryan walked into WrestleMania last year as the WWE champion, so for The Great Liberator to be able to lay claim to defeating him is huge for him and his career.
That said, a rematch is inevitable and Zayn better watch his back.
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WWE was put in a precarious position after Roman Reigns decided to pull out of WrestleMania 36 reportedly right before showtime, per Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet.
Although his reason for doing so was completely justified, it left Universal champion Goldberg without an opponent for WrestleMania and WWE little time to find a proper replacement. That said, surely more creativity could have gone into determining who would face Goldberg instead of announcing Braun Strowman for the spot without any explanation.
Despite that, the match played played out exactly as most likely expected it to with the two trading finishers for two minutes. Strowman ultimately clinching the victory and his first world title in WWE was surprising if only because that was always intended to be Reigns’ WrestleMania moment.
It wouldn’t have been ideal for Goldberg to hold the gold until Reigns returns seeing as how there’s no timetable on how long he’ll be gone for, but that was the entire reason why Goldberg beat Bray Wyatt for the belt in the first place.
If he wasn’t going to lose the title to Reigns, then Goldberg’s reign can’t be considered anything but a waste of time. It doesn’t help that Strowman has endured a ton of damage through bad booking over the years, so him winning the gold out of nowhere makes zero sense from a storyline standpoint.
To his credit, The Monster Among Men going from not being on the WrestleMania card at all to emerging from the event as the new Universal champion is an unbelievable turnaround.
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This weekend marks one year since Becky Lynch emerged from the WrestleMania 35 main event as the first-ever Raw and SmackDown Women’s champion. All signs pointed to her historic reign as Raw Women’s champ coming to an end almost exactly one year later at WrestleMania 36 against Shayna Baszler, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Lynch and Baszler have been on a collision course since Baszler arrived on Raw in February and immediately set her sights on The Man. The former NXT Women’s champion then ran through Raw’s entire women’s division with ease at Elimination Chamber and appeared to be a shoe-in to win at WrestleMania.
As seen on Saturday, Lynch was able to outsmart Baszler and pin her shoulders to the mat for a three count.
Anyone arguing that Baszler was “buried” by Lynch must remember that Baszler didn’t win the NXT Women’s Championship when she first vied for it at the onset of 2018. She lost to Ember Moon before reigning supreme in the rematch at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans a few months later.
It seems that may be where WWE is headed with this storyline, but it didn’t make the outcome of their clash on Night 1 of WrestleMania 36 any less shocking.
Lynch has defeated practically beaten everybody there is to beat on the Raw roster, so it’s more a matter a when and not if Baszler will become champ. There’s always the possibility Ronda Rousey returns soon to rekindle her rivalry with Lynch, but either way, there can be no doubt that The Man is right where she belongs at the top of the food chain following her latest successful title defense.
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Let’s face it: The Boneyard match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles had zero business being as entertaining as it was.
Undertaker hasn’t exactly had many instant classics since his back-to-back bouts with Shawn Michaels at the Show of Shows, nor has AJ Styles been lighting the world on fire in the ring lately. Their feud had been fantastic en route to WrestleMania, but it was never explained what a Boneyard matchup was supposed to entail.
WWE was wise to take full advantage of it being a pre-taped pay-per-view by going the cinematic route with it. Based off the reaction it’s received on social media so far, it’s safe to say their unique approach paid off.
The match is bound to be loved by some and hated by others, but at the very least, the company should be commended for trying something different. Styles was remarkable in his role while Undertaker undoubtedly had his best WrestleMania showing in nearly a decade.
Having it serve as the main event of ‘Mania was perfect seeing as how it eclipsed almost everything else on the card. Let this be a lesson to WWE that trying something different can have its benefits, as this will be remembered far more fondly any match they could have had in the ring.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.