Review: WrestleMania 36 Was Pretty Good But Also Terrible

The 36th edition of the top wrestling showcase was always going to be a challenging production for WWE to pull off, and whilst that certainly showed at times, WrestleMania 36 probably exceeded original expectations.

Unlike the usual jam-packed stadium experience with 80,000 wrestling fans in attendance, WrestleMania this year was forced to be held behind closed doors in Orlando at WWE’s Performance Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speculation prior to the weekend was that most of the wrestlers in the company felt that the event should have been postponed, but WWE owner Vince McMahon decided to go ahead.

Some great matches, multiple title changes and downright weird moments will provide a lot for wrestling fans to reflect on.

What You Need To Know From The Biggest Matches

On night one, Braun Strowman defeated Goldberg in a quick encounter to become the new WWE Universal Champion, and to close out the show on night two, Drew McIntire overcame Brock Lesnar to capture the WWE Championship.

Neither of the two matches for WWE’s biggest titles were altogether memorable but provided a well-earned reward for both of the winners, especially McIntire.

Other big moments of the show were the Boneyard Match between the Undertaker and AJ Styles in a heavily edited, cinematic experience which drew a lot of praise from wrestling fans who lauded the return of Undertaker’s ‘American Badass’.

Edge and Randy Orton also had one of the most brutal Last Man Standing matches in recent memory in a match which culminated a nine-year comeback to wrestling for ‘The Rated R Superstar’ Edge who was forced to retire from performing in 2011.

The two women’s championship singles matches were both highly physical, close and entertaining encounters. Becky Lynch retained her Raw Women’s Championship after beating former cage fighter Shayna Baszler and Charlotte Flair defeated NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley to capture that gold.

Kevin Owens finally got his WrestleMania moment, defeating Seth Rollins in what turned out to be a no DQ match, Sami Zayn became the new Intercontinental Champion after defeating Daniel Bryan, and Alesteir Black got the better of Bobby Lashley.

In terms of the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt… god only knows what happened there.

You can read full results from all the matches at WrestleMania here.

Did WrestleMania Deliver Or Did It Flop?

WrestleMania 36 delivered the best show it possibly could’ve given the circumstances.

It was great at times, bad at times, downright weird at times, but most of the talent on the roster got its time in what would usually be a visual backdrop of the biggest annual wrestling event.

There was a lot that wrestling fans could’ve done without, though.

In some ways it was patchy, but this was always going to be the case with an empty arena. It just didn’t feel like WrestleMania, if that makes any sense.

You can hear more of our thoughts on WrestleMania 36 on our podcast where we delve further into all the action and react to the bright spots and low spots.

Heroics & Heartbreak: Uncompromising Honesty

Heroics and Heartbreak is a brave and astute observation of all things All Blacks, and maybe a book that the higher-ups should care to read.

I have to admit, I didn’t read Brothers in Black, the first book Jamie Wall wrote.

But over a coffee in September 2019, Wall tells me he is working on another book, basically an “inside look” into life on the road with the All Blacks as told by the perspective of a journalist covering them.

Ok, sold, and I immediately politely requested a signed copy upon release.

I wanted to get my hands on this, not just because I know Jamie, I’ve worked alongside him and I’m a fan of his work, but I also knew that with his writing ability and uncompromising search for transparency, this would be a book that tackled some of the issues all of us on the rugby journalism scene had talked about in one way or another.

And that’s exactly what Wall delivers with Heroics and Heartbreak, a book about New Zealand’s top brand and what it’s like work with them every day. News flash, it’s not always great.

On the back of Heroics and Heartbreak, you read the following question: What happened to the All Blacks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

Wall, now one of New Zealand’s best journalists and a two-time rugby author, might not capture the complete answer to that question, but his year-long tale does indeed tell a fascinating story.

The real strength of what Wall has put together in this, a 368-page diary, is a great insight into life as a journalist covering the All Blacks. At its most basic level, this is the story, twined together well with astute observations that range from experiences that were clearly both a mixture of enjoyable and downright frustrating for Wall.

As a sports journalist myself, and having worked with the All Blacks on a handful of occasions, some of the points that Wall makes didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Frankly, as a participant in this industry, I found that side of Heroics and Heart Break to be far more interesting. But Wall isn’t just a journalist, he’s a damn good storyteller and something of a budding historian.

What you get with Heroics and Heart Break isn’t just a book targeted at readers with an interest in the media industry, either.

My assumption is that Wall really wanted to paint the picture of a team (perhaps even a sport) that is wildly complex, conservative and in dire need of a new approach.

Perhaps the selling point of the story is in Chapter 43, The State of the Union, when Wall discusses his observations when attending a Mitre 10 Cup game between Auckland and Canterbury where he finds empty stands, little to no media coverage and a generally lifeless atmosphere at a game that was once one of the big days on the New Zealand Rugby calendar.

Not unheard of, but brave for a journalist with many connections at NZ Rugby to come out and talk about that.

Also brave was pulling no punches in his description of “the worst crowd ever” that attended the 16-all draw between the All Blacks and Springboks in Wellington, the native home city for Wall, or his reaction to the Steve Hansen meltdown post RWC 2019 semifinal.

That’s the real strength of this book, the bravery in which it was written. As the All Blacks megabrand heads into a new era, it may take brave thinking similar brave thinking in order to address what are becoming problems that the union can no longer avoid.


Climbed Over At All Blacks (Diaries Of A Disabled Journalist)

The Diaries of a Disabled Journalist, Edition One.

It’s Friday, June 10th 2016 and I’m about to get climbed over at my first ever All Blacks press conference. 

Eden Park’s glorious grandstands are completely empty. It feels like a ghost town as I roll across the hallowed turf in my wheelchair. We come out of the west side tunnel and negotiate our way to the middle of the field. It’s just me, an NZ Rugby official and a couple of overseas journalists, presumably here covering the Welsh tour.

Wow, I think to myself, I’m actually on the field at Eden Park.

It starts to rain so I retreat under the stands and it’s not until I’m parked that I discover I’m actually in the players’ tunnel. This time tomorrow, All Blacks players, television crews and security will be everywhere and I won’t be allowed anywhere near this close to the action. I decide to make the most of it and take a nervous look around.

Unlike tomorrow, there is nothing here right now, it feels just as lifeless as it did out on the field. A few cables line the green matted floor, to each side of the tunnel there are two long corridors which lead to the respective dressing rooms where the All Blacks and Wales rugby players will preside.

Wales are already here, but only just a couple of their kickers and an assistant coach. I say to hell with the rain and head back down the tunnel and out onto the field. Dan Biggar, the Welsh first five, is taking practice shots at goal so I park next to the sideline and take a few photos and one poorly shot iPhone video of his routine.

Then it’s time for the first interview of the day, with the Welsh assistant coach.

It’s about 11.00 am, I’ve been up since 6.00 am and in work mode since around 9.00 am. The 90-minute drive up the Waikato expressway from Hamilton is spent writing my first story of the day on my portable table, lodged between the front of my wheelchair and locks which hold me in place.

Today’s first story is a preview piece focusing on how Wales will go against the All Blacks. By the time I get to Eden Park, all that needs to be added is quotes from the impending interview, and as expected, the little that the Welsh assistant coach actually says doesn’t derail the tone of the story and force a total rewrite.

From there, the few of us journos who bothered to show up are then directed into an underground holding room back on the west side of the ground. Inside it’s cold, empty and certainly no sign of food or hot drink. This doesn’t go down well considering it’s the middle of winter and very cold.

I take the nearest available desk and begin scrolling Google Images for a decent photo of the Welsh assistant coach we just spoke to.

Unlike my counterparts, I don’t work for a mainstream media organisation so I don’t get the benefit of accessing the library of professional photos that were just taken from the practice session we just saw. I find the most recent and best-looking image I can find, add the quotes into the WordPress article draft and hit “submit for review” where I hope an editor in the US or Europe finds it quickly.

That hope is disappointed, the story doesn’t get published until later that afternoon, well after my mainstream media peers have already had theirs go live. Oh well, I think to myself, their work is probably going to get more views anyway and this is really an opportunity to practice my craft.

It’s now around 12.30 pm and we now have to wait for the big event of the day, the All Blacks captains run where we get to interview the new skipper, Kieran Read.

The term “holding room” to describe where the media contingent was placed is indeed accurate, and after nearly two hours of work and the occasional stop for chatter, we all begin making jokes about being animals locked in an enclosure until feeding time.

The feed we seek, of course, is that big interview with the new All Blacks captain and we all have a list of questions we all desperately hope to fire at him.

Another hour goes by, and finally, we are let out of the enclosure. The All Blacks are on the field, training intensely. Most of us have our eyes locked on that, but a turn to your left and you notice that the stand is scattered with members of the public who’ve been given the opportunity to come along and watch the final practice before the match. This scattering features kids, parents and a whole lot of sponsors. A Japanese group is lucky enough to have even closer seats to the action, they’re down on the field with us and currently huddled around Sam Whitelock as he practices some scrum work.

Julian Savea, the powerful All Black winger who has so often been compared to the likes of Jonah Lomu, runs over to retrieve a ball that lands close to me. Bloody hell, I think to myself, he’s a bloody big unit but his intensity in the face is about as confronting as his physical stature. He doesn’t take his eye off the ball for a single second as his ranging arm comes down and scoops the ball up. I smile and nod at him, but he doesn’t notice. Just looking at those eyes you can tell, even at training, he’s in the zone.

I see little of the training on field because the media contingent, now sizeably bigger than before, has set up shop with their cameras and I don’t have a hope of wedging my wheelchair into the line. Balls are flying everywhere, the kids in the stands are yelling and cameras are flashing. It’s an absolute hive of activity.

“Hey Joe,” I say, “can you please let me know when Kieran is coming over so I can get in position?” I ask quietly to the media manager. He smiles, “sure mate I will let you know”.

Joe, being the man responsible for setting up the media conference and the guy who brings the All Black captain over to us journalists, doesn’t let me know. Out of sheer luck, I spot Kieran walking over and race toward where he’s headed. I park at the front of the media pack, directly behind all the microphones that are already set up.

Kieran walks over, smiles at me and says hello, then the interview begins.

One journalist literally climbs over the side of my wheelchair in an attempt to get closer to Kieran. “Excuse me mate”, he says as he manoeuvres himself over me. He stands directly in front me after that and all chances of getting a decent photo and video are gone.

A second journalist does the exact same thing a minute, and then a third. It’s more than a little belittling, but I’m so caught up in the moment that it didn’t actually register how disrespectful and downright discriminatory that was.

I have it on good authority from NZ Rugby that up until that point they’d never had someone in a wheelchair as part of the media pack before. It is just as much of a learning opportunity for them, and as much as something like that would enrage a lot of disabled people, I take it on the chin and make the best of the interview with Kieran that I can.

In fact, I even manage to ask a question of the man tasked with arguably the toughest job in New Zealand sport. It made the early rise, the ordeal of sitting in the holding room and the frustration of being climbed over, all worth it.

After that, I’m back in the van and we are heading back down the expressway to home. But work is far from over. My laptop is open and I am doing two things at once as we hurtle out of Mt Eden and greater Auckland.

Firstly, I plug in the recorder and begin listening back to what Kieran had to say, typing quotes into a word document. After I’ve picked four quotes, I begin writing the story. At the same time, I’m on Twitter posting photos and quotes from Kieran onto my timeline, looking at what other media outlets are doing just in case I’ve missed any crucial details, and I’m also texting a New Zealand-based editor to see how quickly he can get the story online.

By the time we hit Mercer, a small town south of Auckland, the story is done and ready for editorial.

Two stories, check, but a third is yet to come. I need to turn both these stories, the Welsh angle and the All Blacks angle, into a column that needs to be online tomorrow morning. We get back to Hamilton just before 7.00 pm, I quickly go to the bathroom and then eat, before opening up another word document and typing that crucial third story.

I finish writing at 10.00 pm. Sleep isn’t just easy, it’s automatic.

Improved Blackcaps Put Lacklustre England To Task

Dropped catches and early wickets will haunt England as they reflect on defeat to a much-improved Blackcaps opposition in Wellington. 

The series is now drawn heading to Nelson’s third T20 international, and for the first time in this reasonably new series, the inexperience of the English showed itself on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with perfect conditions for cricket.

But the experience that actually was in the sheds let England down, exampled by James Vince who dropped several easy catches in the field. Just where Vince’s poise, control, and level-headedness had gone to after his stellar showing in Christchurch was anyone’s guess.

New Zealand, meanwhile, were back to something near where they envisioned being after their heavy defeat two days ago. It wasn’t easy and defending 176 presented more than a few storms to navigate, not the least of which a blazing 36 from paceman Chris Jordan to keep the result uncertain late in the chase.

Jordan’s departure saw victory ensured, credit to Mitch Santner who bowled well again to finish with figures of 3/25.

Earlier in the day, the platform for victory had been set by a noticeably more aggressive New Zealand batting performance led by Martin Guptill and finished off by James Neesham. Respectively, the two added 83 runs to New Zealand’s kitty which were crucial in the outcome of the match.

Plus, it added the batting confidence that you sense Guptill in particular needed. Continue reading Improved Blackcaps Put Lacklustre England To Task

James Vince Guides England To Easy Win To Start NZ Tour

A maiden T20 half-century for James Vince has helped England to any easy opening win on tour to New Zealand, chasing down the hosts middling total with ease.

Bowling first in the sun and playing three debutants didn’t appear to impose much concern for England, but it was the classy orthodox batting of Vince that ensured a comfortable win chasing a total of 155.

Outclassing every other batsman with ease, Vince notched his maiden T20 half-century and never looked back. Hitting seven fours and two sixes in his 59, the offside dominant innings featured a strike rate that far outclassed any other, and by the time he was dismissed, the English were in the position to close out.

Thanks all to Vince and a well-executed bowling plan earlier in the day to restrict a usually powerful New Zealand batting arsenal. Continue reading James Vince Guides England To Easy Win To Start NZ Tour

WrestleMania 35 Review: Popular Results Reign At MetLife Stadium

Wrestling’s biggest annual event didn’t fail to disappoint, for the most part, as new champions were crowned in a tradition-breaking night at MetLife Stadium.

In front of over 83,000 people, women’s wrestling went on last in the ‘main event’ of WrestleMania for the first time in history. In a Triple Threat match for both the Raw and SmackDown Women’s titles, Becky Lynch defeated Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair to end what was a night of mostly popular results.

Lynch joined six others to be crowned the new champion in New York. Both the Universal Championship and WWE Championship changed hands, Seth Rollins defeating Brock Lesnar in the first match of the night and Kofi Kingston finally reaching the mountain-top of professional wrestling after beating Daniel Bryan.

Kingston hadn’t had a singles match at WrestleMania prior to tonight, and his crowning as WWE Champion was one of the most popular results amongst fans in a long time, perhaps ironically, since his opponent Daniel Bryan captured the same title on the same stage back in 2014 after several years of performing in the mid card.

But for women’s wrestling, going on as the last match was history in itself, and it firmly puts a stamp on the revolution that has seen WWE continue to push its female competitors as regular main-event stature.

Joined by Rousey and Flair, all three women put on a Triple Threat match that could rival any of the men from past years, although it was a shame that the table didn’t break at the end when it was clearly supposed to be a big spot in the match.

Another high point of the night was the Falls Count Anywhere and No Holds Barred matches.

A huge spot at the top of the camera stand saw The Miz suplex Shane McMahon in a near 20-metre drop, only for McMahon to land on top and get the pinfall. Despite taking the loss, it was a great showing for Miz, a performer who many believe should be main eventing more often, and finally, worthy of a place in the top tier of all-time Wrestlemania matches.

Triple H vs Batista was equally as entertaining, albeit with a feel of just another match to satisfy the short-lived return of Batista, now a regular in Hollywood. Triple H, to the surprise of nobody, coming out on top for yet another WrestleMania moment.

John Cena also returned, but this time as ‘The Doctor of Thuganomics’, one of his original gimmicks as a performer. Kurt Angle’s highly controversial farewell match against Baron Corbin went ahead with the former Olympic Gold Medalist taking the loss, signalling the passing of the torch to the next generation after a career spanning 20-years.

Overall Rating: 7/10 Stars

It wasn’t the best WrestleMania but it certainly wasn’t the worst.

Most of the big matches lived up to the hype, albeit with few surprises other than the scheduling with WWE choosing to put Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins up first. Some of the mid card matches felt forced and the pre-show once again filled as an opportunity to get the entire roster some airtime.

No appearances from Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, or The Undertaker will disappoint and surprise many, and the quick defeat of Rey Mysterio, a WWE legend, further confirms that the company is putting big value on some of its newer main eventers.

WrestleMania heads to Tampa Bay in 2020.