WWE’s two-night WrestleMania 36 is set to the most unique Mania ever, with the spread of COVID-19 pushing the event from a stadium filled with thousands of fans to a Performance Center with no audience. In addition to the unusual setting of a majority of the shows, we also have two unusual matches from remote locations with AJ Styles vs. The Undertaker in a Boneyard Match and John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Funhouse Match.
Without making light of the fact that these departures from the norm were brought about by serious real-world circumstances, this unusual WrestleMania also provides the opportunity to look back at some classic matches in unusual locations throughout WWE history.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker, Boiler Room Brawl, SummerSlam 1996
The iconic characters of Mankind and The Undertaker—combined with Mick Foley’s willingness to take just about any bump a person could come up with—created hot feuds and an unforgettable Hell in a Cell match. A couple of years before that Hell in a Cell match though, they had one of WWE’s most creative, specific gimmick matches.
The Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam 1996 began in an actual boiler room and could only end by Taker or Mankind making it out of the room, entering the ring, and taking possession of “The Deadman’s” urn. The wrestling they did on the way there was for the most part fairly slow brawling that’s since fallen out of fashion, but the use of foreign objects—like a fire hydrant and hot coffee—is still fun, and this match is so visually unique that it remains entertaining.
Roddy Piper vs. Goldust, Hollywood Backlot Brawl, WrestleMania XII
A few months before the Boiler Room Brawl, two different WWE greats had a creative match that’s aged somewhat less gracefully: Roddy Piper and Goldust faced off in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl at WrestleMania XII. Piper was past his physical prime at this point, but he still exuded the charisma and aggression that had already made him a legend. But while Piper and Goldust’s talent holds up, several other elements of this match don’t. More dated than the O.J. Simpson car chase reference is the fact that the whole Piper vs. Goldust feud (and several other Goldust feuds of the nineties) relied on homophobia for heat.
All in all, the Hollywood Backlot Brawl, from a 2020 perspective, showcases two of WWE and WCW’s most creative and charismatic talents of the 1980s-1990s, while also highlighting some of that of wrestling’s worst creative impulses.
Owen Hart vs. Ken Shamrock, Dungeon match, Fully Loaded: In Your House 1998 | Lion’s Den match, SummerSlam 1998
The feud between Owen Hart and Ken Shamrock built to the point of each man facing the other on his home turf, resulting in the Dungeon match in July 1998 at Fully Loaded and the Lion’s Den Match the following month at SummerSlam. With Dan Severn, a mutual rival, serving as special referee, the Dungeon and Lion’s Den matches removed the Hart-Shamrock rivalry from typical Attitude Era arenas and placed it in grittier settings: the Hart family basement and the faux-Octagon.
These may not be the best-remembered matches of the era, but they’re still very different from most other pro wrestling out there, remain interesting to watch. They’re also some of the most explicit cases of WWE incorporating wrestlers’ pre-WWE careers into their programming.
Chavo Guerrero vs. CM Punk, Gulf of Mexico match, WWE ECW 2008
At the beginning of a February 2008 episode of WWE ECW in Corpus Christi, Texas, former ECW Champion CM Punk confronted the man who cheated him out of the title, Chavo Guerrero. Their interaction set up a title match at the pay-per-view two weeks later and set up a much weirder, more extreme, non-title match bout that night: WWE’s first (and only, so far) Gulf of Mexico match.
Punk and Guerrero begin their fight in the ring, each needing to throw the other into the actual Gulf of Mexico outside in order to win. A car windshield was cracked, a local fisherman’s cooler was thrown, and the show ended with someone treading water.
The Rock vs. Mankind, Empty Arena match, Halftime Heat 1999
When it comes to WWE matches with unusual settings, the original Halftime Heat is still the one to beat. The Rock and Mankind, at the height of their rivalry, faced off in an Empty Arena match for the WWF Championship.
Their characters at the time—corporate champion Rock and underdog misfit Mankind—are still two of WWE’s best ever. The brawling action was creative and entertaining, supported by The Rock’s quips, Mankind’s disregard for his own body, and both performers’ ability to work with whatever props were on hand. They used just about every part of the arena, from the seats to the kitchen to the office, and the ending fit everything about this match perfectly: our hero Mankind pinning The Rock with a forklift weighted with beer kegs.
The villain has been one-upped, the WWF Championship was back in the hands of a fan favorite, and the second half of the Super Bowl was about to start. Halftime Heat 1999 is a piece of Attitude Era drama and history that truly holds up, and possibly WWE’s best-ever use of a nontraditional location for a wrestling match.
Night 1 of the two-night extravaganza that is WrestleMania 36—aka “The Only WrestleMania Too Big for Just One Night”—airs tonight, Saturday, April 4 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. (The Kickoff Show airs an hour before, at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.) It will be available to watch on the WWE Network.