All the talk about night one of WrestleMania XXXVI seems to be about the “Boneyard Match” between the Undertaker and AJ Styles, and how spectacular it was. This is good for several reasons (including the fact that it distracts fans from the complete shitshow that preceded it: the Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman match) and it could be the magic bullet that Vince McMahon desperately needs right now as the next live event in front of fans might not be until August.
In case you missed it, the main event took place at a cemetery with the Undertaker and AJ Styles battling in what looked like the climax to your favorite Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie (probably the last time Vince McMahon saw a movie besides The Marine 5). The battle had some well-done cinematic shots along with no doubt bargain-basement licensed Hollywood-esque music that blended perfectly with the action. It made for an exciting battle while hiding the limitations imposed on the Undertaker by that S.O.B. known as Father Time.
This wasn’t the first time fans have seen cinéma vérité and professional wrestling incorporated into a thing of beauty. Fans will recall “The Final Deletion” between Matt and Jeff Hardy, a video segment in Impact Wrestling that had fans talking at a time when few fans cared about Impact (not that the situation has improved).
And long before “The Final Deletion,” wrestling fans have seen various video segments to set up storylines, whether it was the hype videos for the Fabulous Ones that haven’t aged well or legendary segments like the Four Horsemen breaking Dusty Rhodes’s arm in a parking lot.
The “Boneyard Match” has taken things to a new level as it looked exceptional and it was a breath of fresh air after matches in the Performance Center No, it wasn’t John Wick or Ip Man, but it still looked professional and it was the kind of out of the box thinking that professional wrestling needs to stay fresh.
While the WWE hasn’t always been at the forefront of what’s cool in professional wrestling, nobody knows how to spot a trend and steal it like Vince McMahon (even if he doesn’t always understand it). Recall the Monday Night War when ECW was making a stir with its raunchy content and dare I say it, extreme levels of violence. Vince saw the ECW style of wrestling as a way to counterprogram WCW, taking ECW’s sex and violence and toning it down just enough to reach a bigger audience without getting kicked off the USA Network (although he came close until the ratings started surging).
Making every match into a cinematic style match might seem like a mistake, but if the match proves as popular as it seems to be (at least based on social media chatter), you can be sure we’ll be seeing more matches like this. More importantly, we may need to see them on a regular basis. The WWE could use them as special events, much like a ladder match or the way Hell in a Cell matches were special attractions (before the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view). However, I would argue the WWE should focus on using them regularly given their current predicament of not being able to run shows in front of fans.
With talk that the WWE may have to take a hiatus, it may want to consider doing more cinematic matches rather than the weekly tributes to the days of 1980s squash shows like Wrestling Challenge and Championship Wrestling. The WWE could do a best of show with a cinematic match thrown in to draw in fans. The WWE might even consider doing a pay-per-view of cinematic matches as there’s some doubt whether any arena or stadium shows can be done until this summer.
While “Dinosaur” Dave Meltzer and the usual News Boyz can kvetch that the cinematic matches are being run into the ground, the WWE needs to use the tools it has until they can resume airing shows in front of crowds. What’s better, burning out the cinematic matches and holding steady (or perhaps even growing its audience) or doing business as usual and watching RAW and SmackDown being beat by episodes of Golden Girls and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow?