Exclusive: Why WrestleMania 36 is the most social event in WWE history and how Becky Lynch became reigning champion
For a spectator sport, WWE is rewriting history by hosting matches in empty arenas during these extraordinary times, and fans across the globe are all for it.
Every summer, WWE’s flagship event WrestleMania is one of the most-anticipated professional wrestling face-offs. Thousands cheer for their favourite WWE superstar in packed stadiums. But this year, everything and everyone fell silent. Courtesy the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic led to the cancellation of practically every major sporting event across the globe.
However, earlier in February-March this year, WWE fans saw a silver lining when the five-week Smackdown event was conducted successfully in empty arenas, minus the crowds. The online viewership averaged at 2.5 million views approx throughout the season, and this number validated the success of the event, despite the absence of fans watching the matches play out live.
Despite the dead silence of the stadium, the wrestlers continued to perform and the commentator was as high-pitched and hysterical as ever. Although it’s a spectator-driven sport and the thrilling crowds were missing on-screen, the online viewership of WWE continued to swell.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when WWE announced WrestleMania 36 on April 4-5, with a stunning line-up of superstars including Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, The Undertaker, John Cena, Bayley, Bobby Lashley and Lacey Evans, among others. In fact, the hosts, for the first-time ever in history, held a two-day event at the WWE Performance Centre, at Orlando, Florida and at other venues.
In her opening note on the show, Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer of WWE said, “Each WrestleMania has its own personality and is different from the rest. Tonight and tomorrow’s WrestleMania will be the most different of all. There won’t be any thousands of screaming fans in the stadium due to the current circumstances. Tonight, we emanate from a close set with no audience as well as other locations. Nonetheless it’s our commitment to you to somehow, some way provide you with diversion during these hard times... deliverance of hope, determination and perseverance, and most of all, to entertain you and your family. On behalf of all of us, especially WWE superstars, we’d like to say, thank you and welcome to WrestleMania.”
The edition went on to be officially announced as the most-viewed social event in WWE history, as WrestleMania 36 recorded a total of 13.8 million social media interactions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This number is a 57 per cent jump from last year’s WrestleMania 35’s interactions. The highlight matches of the two days were undoubtedly The Boneyard Match featuring The Undertaker and AJ Styles and the Firefly Fun House Match featuring Bray Wyatt and John Cena. The experimental and cinematic-content of these two matches is what made them that much more special.
At the same time, the women’s matches also had their share of popularity, given the glamour and intense action-packed face-offs. Charlotte Flair defeated Rhea Ripley to become the new NXT Women’s Champion; SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley defeated Sasha Banks, Naomi, Lacey Evans and Tamina (in the Fatal 5-Way Elimination Match); and Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross defeated The Kabuki Warriors to become the new WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions. However, the highlight was the Raw Women’s Champion match in which Becky Lynch successfully defended her title and defeated Shayna Baszler.
Speaking post her victory, Becky said, “Holding onto this bad boy for nearly a year straight. It feels pretty wonderful. Nothing I do is an accident. Everything is calculated, and I am always looking for a counter. I’m always looking for the win.” Becky also had some nice things to say about her competitor. “She’s incredible. I never underestimated her. I think she underestimated me. But the fact of the matter is she’s been a top-rank cage fighter 10 years straight. She’s the longest combined women’s NXT champion in history. Her skillset is maybe unmatched in what we have in WWE today. But the fact of the matter is tonight was a test of skill over heart, and I’ve got the heart,” said Becky. The champion also had a message for Shayna: “Shayna has a problem, she thinks she has my number, she certainly doesn’t, but she has a problem with that finish. Just tell her to not go missing. She knows where to find me. I’ll be holding down the fort every single week.”
Indulge got to have an exclusive chat with Becky in the lead-up to the big match, and we spoke to her about performing in silent arenas with no crowds, the ever-evolving status of women wrestlers, and how she and everyone else is dealing with social distancing and the ongoing global lockdown. Excerpts from the interview:
How different is it to perform in an empty arena with no crowd to cheer you on?
I haven’t ever wrestled in an empty arena. But in my lifetime, I have learnt to wrestle independently, (whether) it is in front of people or no people. So this is not completely unfamiliar to me. But I am somebody who thrives off the energy of the crowd and this is no secret. That connection is so important to me. I just have to think in different ways this time. Last year, we made history (with the first women’s main event match in WrestleMania), and this year, I am going to make history as the first woman to successfully defend her title in WrestleMania and perform in an empty arena.
Last year’s WrestleMania was a big moment for women in WWE. Have things changed since then for women wrestlers? Are you on an equal playing field with men or is there more work to be done?
There’s always more work to be done, but I think we’re getting there. Our superstars team has been a little diminished, especially on the RAW side. For a while, there were just four of us who were active. There was Charlotte (Flair), the Kabuki Warriors, Natalya and I. Sarah Logan and Sara Lee weren’t even on TV. We need more women. We need everybody chomping at the bit. We need everybody coming up and challenging me and challenging everybody else. I think this usually happens after WrestleMania. I am hopeful, I think we’re moving in the right way.
How has the coronavirus emergency impacted your life as a wrestler?
I guess the only thing that’s different is, I am not defending my title every night like I was doing before. But my training is the same. I am lucky enough that I have another facility where I can train in LA. In Iowa, there’s a high school with a full camp, so I can train privately there too. When you’re wrestling every single night, you get into a rhythm and that’s helpful. But it can also be harmful because you’re doing the same things over and over again, and you don‘t really think of it.
How have you been spending time in the lockdown?
It’s hard for someone like me, who is on the move all the time. Initially, it was a little jarring, but then I was like, how can I make it better? I am getting to chill at home with Seth (Rollins, Becky’s boyfriend and also a WWE wrestler) and our pets. I talk to people back home in Ireland. I have missed out on catching up with them because I am always on the go, and there’s a time difference. Now that everybody’s home, I am talking to all of them. I am also watching movies and I am cooking a lot. I have also been reading, trying to learn new things, and playing board games.
What shows are you watching? Anything you recommend?
I think all of us are watching Tiger King on Netflix and a lot of other movies. I would say you could check out previous WrestleMania matches and of course watch WrestleMania 36.
What are your thoughts about the pandemic and how it has brought the world to a standstill?
We’re in this together. I know I am in a lucky position where I get to entertain people and I think that we’re in the position to help people. I think the good thing about this is, it has shown people that things that are really important to us are the basics. It’s important that we have a family, our community and people to support us. And more than ever, the world is able to work together these days. Hopefully, people can learn from the mistakes that have happened in other countries, and we can continue to grow and work together. We are all in this together, and we need to help rebuild the world together.
WRESTLEMANIA 36 INSIGHTS
Why is the Boneyard Match one-of-its-kind?
The match between Undertaker (in pic) and AJ Styles was presumably shot at a graveyard in Florida, close to the WWE Performance Centre. It lasted for 20 minutes on-screen, but reportedly took eight hours to film. The wrestlers took cues from the team of WWE producers that included names like Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque and the legendary booker, Michael Hayes. The match looked more like a film than a usual WWE face-off in an arena.
What was the Firefly Fun House Match?
This match seemed to be set in a different universe, and was a combination of a ’90s sitcom, a horror movie and a kid’s show. There wasn’t much wrestling between Bray Wyatt (who transforms into a weird masked character called The Fiend) and John Cena, but it was kind of eerie to watch. The storyline was more like a homage to the biggest moments of Cena’s career, and they did play flashback videos of his and Bray’s earlier matches.