- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
As a service to fans who have a general interest in WWE but might not have watched a match since the Royal Rumble, Survivor Series or even SummerSlam, we’re happy to provide this FAQ as a guide to WrestleMania 39, two nights of matches at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles this weekend (7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Peacock).
So according to the tagline, WrestleMania has gone Hollywood?
Correct. After Mr. T, Burt Reynolds, Joan Rivers, Mickey Rourke, Pamela Anderson, Donnie Wahlberg, Jenny McCarthy, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, Johnny Knoxville and Logan Paul, WrestleMania has finally gone Hollywood.
And they have one of Tinseltown’s most legendary stars as the official host of WrestleMania this year: The Miz, star of “The Marine” Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6!
While bringing “The Grandest Stage of Them All” to Los Angeles may not have produced a match for The Rock as anticipated, it did give us a series of incredible movie-inspired vignettes featuring current WWE talent. We highly recommend Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch as The Joker and Batman, respectively, and The Bloodline doing the “funny how?” scene from “Goodfellas.” If only to hear Roman Reigns say, “I’m funny to you? Like a Tribal Clown?”
After all that speculation, The Rock isn’t the one to break Roman’s winning streak. So who might break it?
Cody Rhodes has a chance to become undisputed WWE Universal champion, hand Reigns his first singles loss since Dec. 2019 and most importantly “finish the story” in the main event.
The abbreviated story: Rhodes left the WWE in 2016 after hitting a creative crossroads — remember Stardust? — rebuilt his reputation back up on the indie circuit, helped create WWE rival AEW, got a preposterously large neck tattoo, left that company to re-sign with WWE as a free agent and vowed in his very first promo to win the WWE championship that his father Dusty Rhodes failed to capture. He missed nine months after putting on a five-star Hell in a Cell match against Seth Rollins with a torn pectoral tendon, returned to win the Royal Rumble and set up this WrestleMania main event against Reigns.
For the non-abbreviated story, go here.
Will he win? There’s never been a challenger to Reigns with the fan support and the narrative that “The American Nightmare” has. OK… that’s not entirely true: Sami Zayn also checked both boxes. What he didn’t have is that company flag-bearer vibe that Rhodes does as a champion. Seriously, he literally has an official T-shirt in which he’s bearing a flag. Subtlety has never had a home in the Codyverse.
Could he lose? Absolutely. The Bloodline angle has been the best in wrestling, with Reigns on top. His heat would only go more nuclear if he deprived this WrestleMania moment™ from the fans. And it’s not like taking a loss would be unthinkable for a wrestler like Rhodes, who balances a Messianic complex with the “hard times” one suffers through to reach paradise. In some ways, it could make an eventual victory all the sweeter.
So why didn’t Sami Zayn get to be the one to face Roman? Is he still involved in the Bloodline?
Zayn is the lead actor in the B-plot of The Bloodline story. He and forever frenemy Kevin Owens take on the undisputed WWE tag team champions The Usos in one of the most highly anticipated matches at ‘Mania. Perhaps any ‘Mania.
Please recall the Royal Rumble, when The Bloodline was assaulting Owens after his match with Reigns and Sami “Honorary Uce” Zayn not only refused to join in the attack, but hit Reigns in the back with a steel chair, which is no way to treat your Tribal Chief. It didn’t happen quickly, but this eventually reunited Zayn and Owens due to their mutual animosity towards the Usos. And here we are.
Could we see one more swerve from Jey Uso, who betrayed his buddy Zayn but also remanded that the Usos take this match? Again, this storyline has offered its share of stunners before. Stone Cold Stunners.
Are there other tag team matches?
Say, do you like tag teams? How about all the tag teams in one match?
There are two WrestleMania “showcase” matches featuring no less than eight tag teams. The men’s event features the Street Profits, Alpha Academy, the latest “but can they co-exist?!” team of Braun Strowman and Ricochet, and The Viking Raiders, who are managed by the spooky Valhalla a.k.a. former Riott Squad member Sarah Logan, looking like she just finished a snack on “Yellowjackets.”
The women’s “showcase” match is… well, probably just an excuse for Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler to body six other people that include Raquel Rodriguez and Liv Morgan, Natalya and Shotzi as well as Sonya Deville and Chelsea Green. Why are Rousey and Baszler in a tag match? Who knows! But they’re not the only iconic women’s wrestlers that’ll be standing on the apron during WrestleMania, because Becky Lynch also isn’t in a singles match.
Wait, what? What’s Big Time Becks up to?
After wrestling for the Raw women’s championship against Bianca Belair at last year’s WrestleMania, Lynch is in a six-woman tag match with two WWE Hall of Famers: Lita and Trish Stratus, who served as reinforcements after Becks challenged her rivals Damage CTRL — Bayley, Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai — to a WrestleMania match. Stratus helped Lynch and Lita win the women’s tag team championship from Damage CTRL. It’s Lita’s first title since 2006.
All we know is that the members of Damage CTRL are taking a Lita moonsault, a “Status-faction” from Trish and a pinfall from Becky Lynch. Rare is the nostalgia match that doesn’t end with warm fuzzies for the crowd.
Unless… this isn’t just a one-time appearance for Lita and Trish. If that’s the case, all bets are off and we’ll see them at SummerSlam, probably fighting each other. Or Becky. Who knows.
Will they fight Bianca Belair? What is she doing at WrestleMania?
Besides recreating an iconic scene from “Titanic” with Montez Ford? (Memo to WWE: Feel free to return to Hollywood as soon as possible. These spoofs ruled.) Belair will defend the RAW women’s championship against Asuka, who won the Elimination Chamber match for the right to face the champ.
That’s pretty much your storyline right there: Two incredible athletes who have battled all the way back to their NXT days, getting a chance to grab the spotlight despite an unremarkable build to their match — and knowing that the Smackdown title match currently has the juice.
Let me guess. It’s Charlotte?
Ah yes! The Queen has returned! Flair reappeared after a seven-month absence and promptly took the title off Rousey, marking the 14th time she’s won a world championship. That absence made the fans’ hearts grow fonder: While having been one of the most divisive wrestlers in the WWE universe — which would typically greet another title victory with “LOL, Charlotte wins … again” — she was heartily cheered upon her return.
Wrestling at ‘Mania is familiar territory for Flair. Doing so as the crowd’s choice? Not so much.
But that’s the vibe headed into this clash with Rhea Ripley of the Judgement Day, who entered the women’s Royal Rumble at No. 1 and outlasted everyone to get this title shot. Please recall these two battled at the pandemic-impacted WrestleMania 36, where Flair won the NXT title in front of an empty arena that probably still managed to boo her.
Flair is two title changes away from tying her father Ric Flair and WrestleMania 39’s own John Cena for the most (recognized) world title wins in WWE history. One has to become a former champion to win the title again. Take that as you will.
Wait, John Cena is in a match at WrestleMania 39?
Look, the man has to do something to keep occupied in between “Peacemaker” seasons and those commercials where he tells us how to boost our credit scores. He’s facing Austin Theory for the U.S. championship in a feud that tracks back to last summer when Theory made fun of Cena’s jorts. He wanted a match with Cena to gain the recognition he felt he wasn’t receiving. But since “Acknowledge Me!” is some other wrestler’s bit, he made fun of Cena’s bald spot and finally got his match.
Speaking of hair: Can we have an intervention with Austin Theory? He used to have this poofy goatee thing that made him look like the loathsome romantic rival in a teen rom-com. Now he’s like the 50th guy in the WWE with a giant scraggily beard. Dude, you’re not going to market correct Finn Balor. Go back to the O.G. facial hair.
Speaking of Finn … Will we see THE DEMON?
If it’s a Hell in a Cell, then the Demon’s gotta show up, right?
In theory, this match will end the seemingly unending feud between Edge, who founded The Judgement Day, and Balor, who took the idea and ran with it like a goth Mark Zuckerberg. They’re battled in single matches and tag matches and an “I Quit” match before the rivalry reached Hell in a Cell capacity. This is the first Cell match at WrestleMania since The Undertaker rolled off a table moments before Shane McMahon crashed through it from the top of the cage in WrestleMania 32. I’d love to see something that brutal at WrestleMania 39. Luckily, Gunther is on the card.
Ah, Gunther. Let the chops begin! Who’s the victim?
Two victims! The Intercontinental champion, who had a star-making performance by nearly wiring the Royal Rumble before losing to Rhodes, takes on Drew McIntyre and Sheamus in a Triple Threat Match. Those two emerged victorious in a Fatal 5-Way Match, having both scored a pinfall at the exact same time. (Seriously, shoutout to the refs in that match, who were more in sync than an Olympic figure skating pair on that count.)
It was decided Drew and Sheamus would wrestle each other with the winner facing Gunther, but their match was interrupted by Imperium, Gunther’s merry band of future Bond film henchmen. As an apology for having such lax security during their matches, the WWE decided both men would face Gunther for the belt.
The last time Sheamus had a title match against Gunther, his chest ended up looking like he fell on a family of porcupines. The only thing that could have made this match more brutal would be if Brock Lesnar was in it, trying to F-5 all the big beefy boys. But he’s got his hands full at ‘Mania.
Finally, Brock! Wait… this can’t be right. He’s fighting… Omos?
What, you thought Vince McMahon would return to the Board of Directors and the two largest superstars in the WWE wouldn’t fight at WrestleMania? There’s no real story here other than two big horses in a big horse fight, including one who fancies a cowboy hat. It’s fun that they’re playing up the “Can Brock even give this guy an F-5?” angle, even though we’ve seen Lesnar deliver them to the likes of Braun Strowman and Mark Henry.
The two met for a weigh-in on RAW this week. Omos weighed in at 410 pounds. We didn’t get Lesnar’s weight because he tried to use the scale as a battering ram into Omos’s stomach. Weigh-ins, weddings, contract signings, “appreciation nights” … don’t they realize how these things turn out by now?
Any other matches with a bit more story to them?
Oh, is it story you want? How about this: A son turns on his father by joining a rival gang, leading to confrontations at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, the latter of which lands the son in jail and deludes him into believing he’s now a hardened criminal. The son taunts and attacks the father, but the father refuses to battle his son. Finally, the son calls his mother “a deadbeat,” and the father can take no more. The fight is on.
Folks, that’s Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Dominik Mysterio.
There’s much more beyond that, from Dominik’s relationship with “Mami” Rhea Ripley to his attacking Rey to take his place at the Royal Rumble. Talk about turning up the temperature at the right time: On the RAW before WrestleMania, Dominik referred to the 2005 ladder match between Rey and the late Eddie Guerrero in which Rey won “custody” of Dominik, whose paternity Eddie had put into question. Said Dom: “Dad, I’ve never said this out loud, but I wish Eddie was my real father and you never existed.”
Oh, and the night before they fight, Rey will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Of course, that will go off without a hitch.
Now that’s a freakin’ storyline.
Speaking of “Freakin'” there is a Seth Rollins match on this card, yes?
Absolutely, and it could be a showstopper: Rollins vs. Logan Paul, the actor-turned-YouTube star-turned-boxer-turned-surprisingly great professional wrestler. The two traded taunts over social media before things took a turn at the Royal Rumble, where Paul eliminated Rollins. At Elimination Chamber, it appeared Rollins was on his way to winning the U.S. title when Paul showed up to interfere. And by “showed up” we mean he jumped on the ring apron in a bright yellow shirt with the fans lustily booing him, which somehow Rollins didn’t notice as he ran into a buckshot lariat.
These are two powerful personalities putting in the work to set the table and two stellar athletes that are going to put on a show. The fans are into it: Properly framing Paul as the heel he was born to play while backing Rollins. If you ever wondered what 90,000 people singing Seth Rollins’s theme music like a Gregorian chant during a match sounds like, wonder no more. Logan Paul’s going to hear it. A lot.
How potentially great is this WrestleMania?
The WWE gets WrestleMania right. Then. Now. Forever. (Together). It delivers emotional satisfaction for so many storylines while offering a dozen “moments” to keep us buzzing until SummerSlam — huge spots, surprising returns and even a swerve or two.
The question isn’t whether it’ll be good, because it’s almost impossible to fumble that bag. The question isn’t whether it’s worth the two-day time investment, because that’s just how these things will go from now on. The question is whether it can potentially be great, and the answer is simple: It all depends on how The Bloodline story plays out.
The two most important matches on the card are the Usos against Owens and Zayn and the Reigns vs. Rhodes match for the belts. If they hit that sweet spot of delivering satisfactory results at WrestleMania without extinguishing the heat around the best storyline wrestling has seen in decades, it’ll truly be a Hollywood ending for this event.
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