As a service to fans who have a general interest in WWE but might not have watched a match since the Royal Rumble, or even Survivor Series or SummerSlam, we're happy to provide this FAQ as a guide to WrestleMania 36, which we can all agree is going to be a WrestleMania like no other.
Q. They're still doing this, huh?
What, you thought a global pandemic could cancel the Showcase of the Immortals™? WrestleMania 36 will be held this weekend in an unprecedented way. Plans to stage the event at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, were scuttled over local restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak. The WWE also canceled its ancillary Mania events like the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, NXT TakeOver and the AXXESS fan fest. And yet, the pirate motif they adopted for Tampa -- home to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival -- is still being used to promote WrestleMania, because when you spend that much money to put Becky Lynch on a CGI buccaneer ship, you use it.
Q. So where exactly is WrestleMania being held?
The action shifts to the WWE Performance Center, their training facility in Orlando, where the event will be held without any fans in attendance. WrestleMania also will be a two-night event (Saturday and Sunday) for the first time. It's being touted as "The Only WrestleMania Too Big for Just One Night," which is a heck of a statement when WrestleMania 35 clocked in at around seven and a half hours and could have filled a three-day weekend.
Q. Who is going to keep this running smoothly?
When you need a calm, steady presence, who better than former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski? Gronk will host both nights, joining Kim Kardashian in the annals of celebrity WrestleMania hosts. Whatever will he talk about to fill the time? Sticking with the event's theme: "Argh, there be Tom Brady to Tampa jokes ahoy, mateys!"
Q. OK, but why are they doing this?
There are actually three ways to approach this question. There's the practical perspective. The WWE builds its best storylines over the course of months for an ultimate payoff at WrestleMania, and then transitions to new narratives. They've been on this course and were determined to see it through.
There's the altruistic perspective. As Paul "Triple H" Levesque, executive vice president of global talent strategy & development for WWE, said on SportsCenter last week: "In this time, we believe that entertainment for people is a necessity. ... We feel the obligation to do that for people. The fans are there for us year-round."
Triple H: Entertainment is a necessity now more than ever
Triple H explains WWE's decision to hold WrestleMania 36 during the coronavirus pandemic and adds that they are taking the necessary safety precautions.
It's a temporary respite for the fans, and for the talent, whom Levesque said have found solace in continuing to create a product every week.
But there's also the safety issue. The matches we're previewing may not look the same when you watch them this weekend. Some WWE talent have already opted out from appearing, and rumors swirl about others. There are many wondering, given the fact that every other sports and entertainment venture has paused their operations, why the WWE is pressing on.
"We don't like to take precautions with our talent, any more so than we need to, and all of our talents are in this in a voluntary capacity. If they don't want to be a part of this, they feel there's a risk, for whatever reasons, be it themselves or somebody around them, they don't have to be here. Nothing is held against them for that, same with our crew and everybody else. We don't want to take chances on that," Levesque said.
And that applies even while performing in an empty gymnasium, which the WWE has been doing for weeks now.
Q. How is wrestling different in an empty building?
Why Becky Lynch doesn't mind wrestling without fans at Wrestlemania 36
Becky Lynch tells Ariel Helwani that she is used to wrestling without fans considering her time with independent promotions before WWE.
Since March 16, WWE has been broadcasting Raw and SmackDown from inside the Performance Center. It took them a little bit to figure things out: In the early shows, wrestlers were awkwardly going through their "play to the crowd" motions. It was like when you're at a Chuck E. Cheese and the animatronic band starts playing to an empty dining room. But they eventually figured out a formula of good promos, limited live action and classic matches from recent pay-per-views. The past couple of shows have been encouraging, as far as storylines and utilizing the space in more inventive ways. So it won't be unwatchable. Unless you consider a 53-year-old Goldberg defending the Universal championship to be unwatchable.
Q. Goldberg is the champion? Are we in a time warp? What year is this?
Not only that, he won the Universal championship by becoming the first wrestler to defeat Bray Wyatt's "The Fiend" persona, winning the title in a squash match on Feb. 27 in Saudi Arabia -- and in the process, cooling off one of the hottest characters in wrestling, with an opponent whose peak in popularity coincided with that of Smash Mouth.
Who was next for Goldberg? Roman Reigns. But now that's not happening.
Q. What happened to Roman Reigns?
Reigns, who returned to the ring just over a year ago when his leukemia went into remission, opted out of WrestleMania due to health concerns about COVID-19. "With Roman having a preexisting condition, that would make him more susceptible to something, it's understandable. We've had a few talents that had issues or chose not to be here but we are where we're at," Levesque said.
Reigns added via an Instagram statement: "For all my fans, you know I'm sorry I didn't get to compete this year and put on a show and entertain. But sometimes things are more important and I had to make a choice for me and my family."
At the very least, the WWE won't have to worry about the fans booing Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, as neither party will be in attendance this year.
Q. Who replaced Reigns?
You'll know after SmackDown. Or when you tune into WrestleMania. Or through a process of elimination. Which physically imposing wrestlers -- who don't otherwise have a place on the card -- might make Goldberg look impressive by being hit with a spear?
Q. What about the WWE championship match?
Please recall that Brock Lesnar went on a ridiculous 13-elimination run in the 2020 Royal Rumble before being tossed by Drew McIntyre, who eventually won the Rumble and challenged Lesnar. The two finally meet at WrestleMania for the title, with fans wondering if they're watching McIntyre complete his long road to a WWE championship, or if he's just another challenger being fed to Lesnar.
Q. How about the women's titles?
Bayley, who is still a heel, is your SmackDown champion and will defend in a five-way match against Sasha Banks, Tamina, Naomi and Lacey Evans, who used to be an evil Southern belle before being turned into the WWE's answer to Liberty Belle from G.L.O.W. The Raw title features Becky Lynch against a cannibal.
Q. What? Cannibalism?
Sorry, that should have read "against Shayna Baszler, who chewed on Lynch's neck and drew blood, which was pretty gross." The attention-seeking move led to a nasty rivalry, as they've traded surprise attacks leading up to WrestleMania. She's a credible opponent for Lynch and this feud has some legit heat. Unlike what was concocted for Charlotte Flair.
Q. What's "The Queen" up to?
Flair won the women's Rumble to earn a title shot and decided ... to challenge current NXT champion Rhea Ripley, for reasons. Anyway, we just hope an event in the Performance Center doesn't dilute Charlotte Flair's entrance and couture, which have become as synonymous with WrestleMania as the Undertaker wrestling past his prime. Which he's doing again.
Q. The Undertaker is back? What year is this?
Hey, it's only been three years since his farewell match! The Dead Man is facing AJ Styles in perhaps the event's most convoluted feud. After the Undertaker cost Styles a couple of wins -- again, for "reasons" -- Styles made things personal by calling him by his real name ("Mark!") and claiming his "conniving" wife, former wrestler Michelle McCool, was forcing The Undertaker to continue wrestling past his expiration date. The Undertaker retorted by calling Styles by his first name ("Allen!") and claiming that the feud was partially born because McCool performed Styles' finishing move better than he could. Seriously. The two will meet in a "Boneyard Match," which we are assuming will be at one of those "other locations."
But wait, we take it back: John Cena is taking part in the event's most convoluted feud.
Q. John Cena? The famous actor? What's he doing back at WrestleMania? What year is this?
Cena is wrestling "The Fiend." There's no real reason for this feud, other than WrestleMania getting a little of that John Cena charisma while "The Fiend" gets some heat back after losing to a 53-year-old Goldberg. Wyatt has challenged Cena to a "Firefly Fun House Match" which could have a "cinematic feel," which means Cena enduring lots of creepy puppets and pastel colors. This could be like that "House of Horrors" match Wyatt had with Randy Orton, except ... it might be good.
Q. If those are the convoluted feuds, what are the ones with real heat?
Edge vs. Randy Orton, full stop. This is your showstopper right here. Edge's return at the Royal Rumble after nine years was genuinely exhilarating, and Orton's attack on his former tag team partner -- including a con-chair-to on a wrestler who retired due to a neck injury -- was absolutely heinous. The feud was advanced when Orton RKO'd Edge's wife, WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix, leading to a full-on attack on Orton by Edge. Orton has been doing his best work in years, Edge is returning to a singles match for the first time since 2011, and it's a "Last Man Standing" match. This is the kind of incendiary bout that would ignite an arena crowd. Alas, not to be.
We're also looking forward to the blow-off (or advancement) of Kevin Owens' feud against Seth Rollins, the "Monday Night Messiah" who's found his groove as a truly detestable heel. What it lacks in backstory, it could make up for in having two performers who don't necessarily need a crowd to put on a show.
Speaking of which: Daniel Bryan is scheduled to wrestle Sami Zayn for the Intercontinental championship. These are two wrestlers who could put on a five-star match in a coat closet. But we fear that with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura in a faction with Zayn, and Drew Gulak aligned with Bryan, we might not see them get enough time nor a satisfactory finish.
Q. Wow, there are a lot of matches at WrestleMania.
What part of "The Only WrestleMania Too Big for Just One Night" did you not comprehend?
In total, there are 16 matches announced for WrestleMania. Among the others, if they're held (as WWE is still advertising Goldberg-Reigns as of Thursday morning): The SmackDown tag titles will be on the line (and in the air ) as a reunited The Miz and John Morrison, your champs, take on The Usos and The New Day in a ladder match.
The Kabuki Warriors, your women's tag team champs, take on Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross in a match to determine which one of them will have Asuka's green mist sprayed in their eyes. The Raw tag champs The Street Profits take on Angel Garza and NXT star Austin Theory, who gets the call up to replace a purportedly injured Andrade. Aleister Black will kick Bobby Lashley in the face, should they meet. Elias faces King Corbin, so Gronkowski and his friend Mojo Rawley can cost the latter the match with a comedy spot. (Not a spoiler, just a prediction.) Oh, and Dolph Ziggler takes on Otis, a 330-pound man mountain whose heart Ziggler shattered by stealin' his girl, Mandy Rose.
Q. This sounds like a soap opera.
It very much is. Boy meets girl. Boy gets Valentine's Day dinner with girl. Boy gets possibly fraudulent text saying she's running late. Boy shows up to dinner and sees Dolph Ziggler making time with said girl, and dramatically drops his bouquet in sadness. Boy vows to beat up Dolph Ziggler at WrestleMania and win his girl back. Tale as old as time. And sometimes, that's all you need.
Q. So what's your prediction for WrestleMania?
Some of it will make you smile. Some of it will make you squirm. Some of it will be absolutely inspired, because the WWE sometimes does its best work when faced with adversity. Some of it will be a sad reminder of the reality of our surroundings, as any event in an empty building would. We're not all going to agree on how the event was held, or even if it should be held. But I think we can all agree that the performers and the crew are just trying to do right by their craft, this prestigious event and their fans in these unprecedented times. It's quite a moment for WrestleMania.