WrestleMania 36 kicked off Saturday on the WWE Network and on PPV, the first of a two-night event that promises to be, if nothing else, unique. Unlike past WrestleMania events that took place live in stadiums with a massive audience, WrestleMania has been pre-taped in the WWE's Performance Center with no audience at all, with the whole affair hosted by former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski.
Another factor that makes this year's WrestleMania interesting is that two of its matches have been filmed "offsite," rather than in the ring. John Cena will face "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse match, while The Undertaker will face AJ Styles in a Boneyard match. While we know how one of those matches turned out and with one more still to go, we know that WWE is treating WrestleMania more like a movie than a sporting event this year, editing and adding special effects to the matches. WWE executive Triple H has gone so far as to say that the two matches above may cause WWE to look at different ways of entertaining their audience for years to come.
The Backlot Brawl
Though fans don't know what to expect from the Firefly Funhouse or Boneyard matches will look like, there is some precedence for offsite shoots during WrestleMania. The year was 1996, and Dustin "Goldust" Rhodes was set to face "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in a Backlot Brawl at WrestleMania 12. But what started as a simple hardcore brawl in a parking lot turned into something nobody could have expected, not even the participants themselves.
Like this year's WrestleMania, WWE made use of the magic of pre-taping to deliver something different. First of all, the entire outside portion of the match was filmed two weeks in advance, but if you think that meant things went smoothly, you'd be wrong. In an appearance last year on podcast Inside the Ropes, Rhodes recalled that things were out of control pretty much from the start.
"Vince went out and bought a brand new white Bronco, just like OJ Simpson had," Rhodes explained on the podcast. "Same year, same color, all that stuff. Then, he got me an old piece of **** Cadillac and spray painted it gold. I'm not to get any offense in, at all. This is all Roddy kicking my ass. The only piece of offense I get is a nut shot, then I get in the card and drive off. And when I drive off, I clip the Bronco." Except things didn't go quite as planned:
"It didn't work like that," Rhodes continued. "To start, I pull around the corner and there's Roddy with the bat. He drops the bat and pulls up this big firehose and starts squirting me, like that's gonna stop the car, right? But it does. He picks up the bat and bashes in the window. Glass went everywhere and he cut his hand. I climbed out the other side and he commenced kicking my ass. For real. He hit me a couple of times with the bat. He threw me into this dumpster and it did not budge. I banged my head so hard that I had a concussion."
Making matters worse, Rhodes asked Piper before the match to bust him open "hardway," an insider wrestling term that means to cause him to bleed by actually punching him, rather than by using a blade as wrestlers typically do.
"Vince didn't want any blood," Rhodes said. "I talked to Roddy beforehand and said, 'I want you to bust me open hardway.' He said, 'Sure. No problem.' He hits me square in the forehead, not the eye. There's no blood, nothing. I'm like, 'do it again.' You can see on the second shot when he hit me in the same spot, he broke his hand. I got a concussion, he's got a broken hand. I'm pissed that I don't have any blood."
A WrestleMania to Remember
Things only got worse from there.
"I nut shot him, jump in my car, and I'm revving up the engine," said Rhodes. "One of the other things we talked about was, he's going to move out of the way as I drive past him and I clip his Bronco. I'm waiting for him to move — I'm not driving too fast, maybe 10-15 MPH — I'm driving and he's not moving. He's not moving and his knee just buckles on the car. He grabs the hood and I'm looking at him and I'm like, 'I just killed Roddy Piper.'"
Both men ended up in the hospital after the filming, so it's a good thing they had two weeks to recover before finishing the match live in the arena on the night of WrestleMania. Unfortunately, things didn't go any more smoothly then.
"He's supposed to give me a three-second head start and I bust through the barricade and go down the ramp," Rhodes continued. "They give me the cue and Roddy is supposed to wait three seconds because he's supposed to bump into my door. It didn't work like that. They give me the cue to go, I bust through the barricade, and he doesn't wait three seconds. He's so close that I pushed the door open and it slammed. He would have killed me. He rammed into the side of the door and I crawled out the other side."
In a true sign-of-the-times, the match ended with Piper stripping Goldust to reveal he had women's underwear on underneath his clothes. That kind of kink-shaming wouldn't fly in today's world, but in 1996, it was just the right kind of crazy that would eventually lead to WWE's "Attitude Era," one of the most popular eras in the history of the sport.