NOTE: This post contains spoilers regarding changes to the WrestleMania 36 card.
(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) — This year’s WrestleMania is going to be one for the history books. The 36th installment of pro wrestling’s biggest spectacle will mark three big firsts for WWE. The show will air over two nights, there won’t be a single fan in the stands, and it has already been taped.
The coronavirus pandemic could have forced WWE to postpone or cancel the show altogether. Instead, Vince McMahon opted to move forward under the most unique circumstances. It has been a decision that undoubtedly has been a logistical nightmare, if for no other reason than the company has to adhere to state orders limiting the number of people allowed to gather at any one location at a single time. Between the talent, announcers, crew and referee, those 10 spots get filled up awfully quick.
Given the circumstances and the worsening of the epidemic by the day, WWE opted to tape the show. Had they not done that, there is a good chance there would be no WrestleMania this year since a mandatory statewide stay-at-home order went into effect in Florida on Friday. The order will last for 30 days and could be extended longer.
While WrestleMania may be safe, WWE’s other shows are in jeopardy of having to air replays of past matches until the order is lifted or alternate arrangements can be made to film somewhere other than the company’s Performance Center in Orlando.
But let’s focus on WrestleMania for now. This is a party after all, and Rob Gronkowski is hosting. So, at the very least, it will provide a break from reality on both Saturday and Sunday night for the WWE Universe.
Here is a look at the card and some thoughts on how the matches might play out.
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre
If there was ever a man who paid his dues and proved himself worthy of a title run, it is Drew McIntyre. The crowd is behind him, and he’s gone so far as to ask fans to record themselves pointing to the WrestleMania sign at home if he wins. Let’s hope they get the chance. Expect for this one to be a bruising battle of big men. Pick: Drew McIntyre
Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman
Roman Reigns removed himself from the main event of WrestleMania because his leukemia treatment has left him immunocompromised. Nobody can fault him for playing it safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Had there not been a coronavirus outbreak and the event was still taking place at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Reigns would almost certainly have been a lock to win. Instead, Braun Strowman will be taking his place and challenging Goldberg for the Universal Championship. Strowman was hastily inserted in the match this week while Goldberg reportedly also wasn’t in the WrestleMania picture until shortly before Super Showdown in February. His latest title run came together quickly and would have ended just as fast had Reigns stayed in. Instead, look for the WWE Hall of Famer to carry the championship a while longer, unless there is a shocking upset. It is WrestleMania after all. Pick: Goldberg
The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles
If it’s WrestleMania and The Undertaker is in action, it’s a wise choice to go with the dead man. The fact that there are now two blemishes on his previously pristine Mania record is almost irrelevant. He is, and always will be, the favorite. This feud has been unlike anything we’ve seen from Undertaker before, as AJ Styles is infusing the future hall of famer’s wife, former WWE Superstar Michelle McCool, into the storyline. He’s also addressed The Undertaker by his real name, Mark Calaway. You never know when the aging wrestler will hang up his boots for good, but you can bet that this won’t be the dead man’s last ride. Especially when it’s a boneyard match (whatever that turns out to be). Pick: The Undertaker
John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Six years ago John Cena spoiled Bray Wyatt’s WrestleMania moment. But now that Cena is part-time like a paper route, it’s unlikely that will happen again. This should be a fun one to watch, and there should be a party at the Firefly Funhouse when it’s over. Pick: Bray Wyatt
Last Man Standing Match
Edge vs. Randy Orton
The build to this match has been, by far, the best storyline of this WrestleMania season. Even before the coronavirus pandemic forced WWE to broadcast shows on closed sets the promos were riveting. Since the seats have emptied, they have been downright extraordinary. Look for Edge to come out on top here. You can’t have a guy make an epic return to action and not get revenge on his opponent for attacking his family. You just can’t. Pick: Edge
Raw Women’s Championship
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler
This one isn’t as clear cut as it would seem. Part of me is wondering whether there is a surprise coming. Perhaps Ronda Rousey will return and cost The Man the title she won from her at last year’s WrestleMania? The rowdy one has denied she is part of this year’s show, but did tease returning to WWE soon. Take that for what it’s worth. Baszler could be the favorite here, but if Rousey doesn’t show, I’m going with Lynch. Pick: Becky Lynch
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match
Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina vs. Naomi
The storyline here is what will become of best friends Bayley and Sasha Banks when they compete against each other. The Boss has intimated there are no friends once the match begins. Look for Banks to win and Bayley to find someone else to give her one of the hugs she used to so generously give out. Don’t expect their friendship to endure this. Pick: Sasha Banks
NXT Women’s Championship
Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
NXT remains locked in a battle with rival All Elite Wrestling on Wednesday nights. So far, AEW has gotten the better of them. However, putting the title on one of the biggest Superstars in all of WWE might just move the needle in their favor. This is purely a business decision, so expect for Charlotte to win back the title she lost five years ago. Pick: Charlotte Flair
Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins
The Monday Night Messiah has had more than his fair share of WrestleMania moments, while Kevin Owens is still waiting for a memorable one of his own. Many believe the long wait will be over this weekend. Hopefully, they’re right. Pick: Seth Rollins
Sami Zayn (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
The current champion is favored to retain the title, which is a bit surprising. I’d have figured that distinction would belong to Daniel Bryan. Perhaps this is what’s best for Bryan, who has made a career out of being the underdog (see: WrestleMania 30). The only question is whether Drew Gulak’s insight will help him win the match or if it will send his WrestleMania hopes down in flames. I’m thinking Bryan wins the title and then rekindles his feud with Gulak. Pick: Daniel Bryan
SmackDown Tag Team Championship
Triple Threat Ladder Match
The Miz & John Morrison (c) vs. The Usos vs. The New Day
Like Roman Reigns, The Miz is off the WrestleMania card. He was feeling ill during recent television tapings, which led to the decision, according to The Wrestling Observer. The match should shift to one representative from each team competing, but it’s unclear whether the tag team titles will still be on the line. Pick (subject to change): The Usos
Raw Tag Team Championship
The Street Profits (c) vs. Austin Theory & Angel Garza
Look for The Street Profits to retain here simply because we don’t know yet what Austin Theory’s future holds. Will he become a mainstay on the Raw roster or return to NXT? Pick: The Street Profits
Elias vs. King Corbin
After getting thrown off of a 15-foot-high balcony by King Corbin, look for Elias to get his revenge here. We need feel-good moments, and nobody likes Corbin. Pick: Elias
Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley
This match seems like it is on the card just to fill space. Look for Aleister Black to come out on top here, since he’s on the climb. Pick: Aleister Black
Otis vs Dolph Ziggler
Poor Otis was swindled out of a dream date with Mandy Rose by Dolph Ziggler. What we know is that Ziggler and Sonya Deville conspired to ruin the big man’s Valentine’s Day date with Rose. Something tells me that the beans are about to be spilled here and we’re going to get a happy ending where Mandy and Otis ride off together into the sunset. Pick: Otis
WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
The Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
Like John Mayer waiting on the world to change, I keep waiting on Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross to break up and start feuding with each other. I expect to still be waiting once the dust settles on this one. Look for The Kabuki Warriors to retain and the odd duo of Bliss and Cross to keep hosting “A Moment of Bliss” segments together on Raw. Side note: Asuka has been the MVP of WWE TV for the past few weeks. Her mic skills are second to none, even if you don’t speak Japanese. Pick: The Kabuki Warriors
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.