WWE had WrestleMania 36 in their empty Performance Center this past weekend and while it wasn’t a traditional WrestleMania in front of a stadium full of fans, it was something to fill about seven hours over the weekend.
Two WrestleMania matches that got rave reviews were Saturday’s Boneyard match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles and Sunday’s Firefly Fun House match between “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and John Cena. Both matches took place outside the traditional confines of the ring and were uniquely shot in a cinematic style.
WWE has traditionally been hesitant to pull the trigger on these kinds of matches. Only the Ultimate Deletion match and House of Horrors match (both involving Wyatt) come to mind as recent cinematically shot matches. But after they needed to pivot because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they gave fans two classic matches. That shows me WWE has great ideas and can put out great content but for some reason they go for the safe option unless they’re forced to change. WWE should embrace these “outside the box” ideas and utilize them even when things go back to a semblance of normalcy.
The great thing about both these matches was how different these matches were but at the same time were similar and one didn’t overshadow the other. That’s a fine line to walk but WWE did it masterfully.
The Boneyard match was presented more like a campy horror movie. Campy doesn’t have to mean terrible, but it can be if you don’t embrace that campiness. That’s what plagued the House of Horrors match a few years ago. Having Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt fight in an abandoned house would’ve had a better reaction if WWE hadn’t treated it like a serious match.
Fans knew going in that match would be absurd but WWE never embraced the “so bad, it’s good” aspect and the match suffered. That’s not to say the Boneyard match was “so bad, it’s good,” the match was legitimately good on its own merits. My point is that WWE presented the match in a way that matched how most fans were going to react and that helped.
Another positive aspect of the Boneyard match was how it was able to make The Undertaker look. Let’s be honest, the guy is in his mid 50s and his best wrestling years are behind him. Other than his tag match at Extreme Rules last year, many of Undertaker’s recent matches have been tough to watch. The Boneyard match is a way to hide Undertaker’s limitations while also packaging him as something we’ve never seen before. This doesn’t exactly get butts in the seats since he’s not in a wrestling ring full of fans but the occasional cinematic match can extend The Undertaker’s career.
The Firefly Fun House match was something else entirely. This was like if WWE combined Westworld, Twin Peaks, and Mister Rodgers Neighborhood and put out a mini-film masked as a match. As a 25+ year pro wrestling fan, people like me were rewarded with all the attention to detail and Easter eggs throughout the match. But at the same time, new and casual wrestling fans didn’t need to know John Cena’s or Bray Wyatt’s career or what happened in their WrestleMania XXX match in order to watch this story and think it’s brilliant.
Bray Wyatt might be one of the smartest and most creative people in pro wrestling today. He has put out idea after idea and gotten them over but for some reason or another, just didn’t reach the potential it should have. Even his WWE Championship reign a few years ago only lasted a month.
Now as The Fiend, Wyatt has utilized all his previous gimmicks and incorporated them into this incredible character fueled with multilevel stories and details that if you’re able to follow the story, you will be rewarded like nothing else in pro wrestling. Wyatt’s character has survived a red light, a terrible Hell in a Cell match, and being beat by a 53-year-old Goldberg in three minutes.
WrestleMania 36 and the Firefly Fun House match may go down in history as Bray Wyatt’s magnum opus. Bray Wyatt put John Cena into the Firefly Fun House and put him through a kind of LSD version of “This is Your Life.” to show him who he really was.
It wasn’t a traditional match but John Cena and Bray Wyatt put together one of the greatest things we’ll see in WWE for a long time. This, and the Boneyard match, weren’t going to happen if WrestleMania had been at a sold out Raymond James Stadium but after being forced to pivot, they made the best of a bad situation and put out two classics that people will talk about for years to come.
Please, Vince McMahon and WWE, give your superstars and staff a chance to show fans something we’ve never seen before. Not everything will be great but fans will forgive you for the bad if taking a chance means we get some good like we saw this weekend. Don’t let a global pandemic force you to do things fans want to see. Embrace this new version of storytelling and when the situation makes sense, maybe do something like this once or twice a year. Your fans will thank you.