- 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 37, two nights of matches on April 10 and 11 at the House That Tom Brady Rebuilt.
Why is the tagline for WrestleMania 37 “Back in Business”?
Because WWE is in the business of charging a live audience large sums of money to watch its product — and it’s back to business for 25,000 fans who are (hopefully) masked up in pods around Raymond James Stadium, the first live audience for WWE in over a year.
What should the actual tagline have been?
“WrestleMania 37: No, You Can’t Just Chapter Skip Ahead To Sunday’s Main Event.”
The triple-threat match between Universal Champion Roman Reigns vs. challengers Edge and Daniel Bryan is everything that’s great about WWE. They cracked the code on Reigns by turning him heel and aligning him with Paul Heyman last year. They managed to squeeze more nostalgia juice out of Edge, who returned at the 2020 Royal Rumble, had a cinematic street fight with Randy Orton at WrestleMania 36, tore his tricep, returned to win the 2021 Royal Rumble from the No. 1 position and then speared Reigns at the Elimination Chamber to declare he was going to challenge for the Universal title at WrestleMania.
That spear happened moments after Reigns defeated Bryan, who earned a title shot by winning the Elimination Chamber match moments earlier. Bryan got a rematch at Fastlane where Edge was the “special guest enforcer” for the match, which in WWE speak means “will definitely factor into the finish by attacking someone.”
True to form, there was a referee bump, Edge took over to officiate the match and then Bryan accidentally hit Edge with a chair-shot while chasing off Reigns lackey Jey Uso. Whoops. Later, Bryan got Reigns in the “Yes Lock” and actually got the champion to tap out (!) but our “special guest enforcer” ignored it and … bashed both guys with a chair, leading to Reigns finally getting the pin on Bryan.
On a subsequent SmackDown, the WrestleMania match between Reigns and Edge was turned into a triple threat with them facing Bryan … which led to Edge going bonkers and beating on both.
This is just smart booking here. Roman Reigns vs. Edge as a face trying to win that last big championship? It would have been fine. Trite and predictable, but fine. Roman Reigns vs. the “Rated-R Superstar” heel Edge and Daniel Bryan in his ideal form — a babyface trying to overcome insurmountable odds — is genius. Consider this: WrestleMania will be the first time a heel Roman Reigns will be in front of live fans. They’ve booed him for years. Now, as a cool heel, he probably gets cheered. Except now he’s in a match against a beloved Hall of Famer and Daniel Bryan, the people’s underdog. In theory, they’ll still boo him.
Reigns vs. Edge vs. Bryan is unpredictable and the most compelling match on the card. Well, at least one that doesn’t involve a Nigerian Drum Fight.
A what now?
Big E from The New Day is our Intercontinental champion. Apollo Crews, a Sacramento native, has taken on the persona of a Nigerian royal (Crews’ real-world parents were both born in Nigeria). He challenged Big E to a “Nigerian Drum Fight,” a match in which there are “no rules, no limitations, just a beating so loud that it sounds like a drum.” We imagine the winner is the first one to play the solo from “Wipeout” on their opponent with their fists, but we’re probably overthinking it.
Better to overthink it than to have given it no thought at all — like Shane McMahon’s match against Braun Strowman inside of a solid steel cage.
How can a cage match not have a compelling storyline? Doesn’t the cage match exist as a way to emphatically settle long-standing feuds?
Absolutely, which makes this match all the more baffling. This feud, in summary: The McMahon scion said Strowman isn’t intelligent, poured Nickelodeon-esque green slime on him during a RAW match and faked an injury at Fastlane to get out of a rematch. So they’ll meet on Saturday so a 51-year-old Shane can jump and/or fall off something tall. Either the cage or Strowman’s shoulders. One of the two.
Are there other non-wrestlers involved in WrestleMania?
Sure! It’s as much a part of ‘Mania tradition as pointing at the dopey sign in the rafters to make a match. Mr. T at the first WrestleMania. Lawrence Taylor headlining WrestleMania XI. Rob Gronkowski at WrestleMania 36, joining such luminaries as Marshmello and Santa Claus as WWE 24/7 champions. Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny is also a former 24/7 champion, and enters that pantheon of WrestleMania guest performers by teaming with recent NXT call-up Damian Priest against the delightfully loathsome John Morrison and The Miz. It’s been a build highlighted by dueling guitar shots by Bunny and Miz, the desecration of Bunny’s multi-million-dollar Bugatti and the fact that this whole feud started because the Grammy winner refused to collaborate with noted hip-hop stars Miz and Morrison.
Bad Bunny has put in some ring work, and this match should end up being goofy fun involving a celebrity at WrestleMania — instead of a goofy celebrity detracting from the fun at WrestleMania. Which brings us to Logan Paul.
Which one was Logan Paul? The one who boxed KSI or the one that boxed Nate Robinson?
Yeah, it doesn’t matter. The YouTube star will be in the corner of Sami Zayn as he wrestles long-time frenemy Kevin Owens at WrestleMania. Zayn has been filming a documentary that intends to show that forces beyond his control have held him back from taking over the WWE. Paul says he’ll join Zayn at WrestleMania, but is skeptical of his findings. Owens doesn’t believe Zayn at all, and somehow a match was made between the two.
Here’s hoping the WWE’s television partnerships mean that Logan Paul shows up dressed as “Grandpa Monster,” his eliminated “The Masked Singer” persona.
Do we have any matches whose setups are a little less contrived?
Yes! As usual, the women’s division brings clarity to the proceedings. Rhea Ripley wants to win her first RAW title. Asuka holds the RAW title. They’ve never met before in a WWE ring. Boom, match.
Bianca Belair wins the Royal Rumble. She’s never held a title in the WWE. She challenges SmackDown champion Sasha Banks. Boom, match.
The tag teams of Naomi and Lana, Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke, The Riott Squad, and Natalya and Tamina want a shot at champions Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. So those teams meet in a “Tag Team Turmoil” match on Night 1 of WrestleMania for a shot at the belts on Night No. 2. Boom, match.
Simply, clean setups with belts on the line. None of them build on the premise where a challenger dislikes a champion because he rides a scooter barefoot backstage.
Why does it seem like it leads back to Matt Riddle?
Because it does! Except it’s just Riddle now. Everyone’s favorite numbskull had the audacity to make a leprechaun joke about Sheamus, who was fresh off his feud with Drew McIntyre, while riding around on a scooter. Sheamus assaulted him with Riddle’s own scooter and then defeated him in a non-title match to set up this battle for the U.S. title. It’s all abrupt and contrived — and Riddle’s acting is like if Rob Van Dam were a disinterested puppy — but if you like kicking, boy do we have a match for you.
Speaking of both kicking and Drew McIntyre, what’s up with our Scottish friend?
He’s trying to regain his WWE championship from Bobby Lashley. D-Mac won his Elimination Chamber match but suffered a post-match beatdown from Lashley, setting up the most glorious moment of pseudo-spontaneity that the WWE can offer: The opportunistic cashing in of the Money In The Bank briefcase for a title shot. The Miz did just that, pinned what was left of McIntyre, and became champion for [checks calendar] like a week before Lashley demolished him on RAW to win his first WWE championship.
So you have two of the most powerful superstars ready to do battle, with McIntyre getting the always curious “but Lashley never pinned the champ for the title!” redemption arc. Also intriguing: That the WWE broke up The Hurt Business, Lashley’s popular faction with Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander, with Lashley upset that they lost a 2-on-1 match to McIntyre that barred them from ringside.
It doesn’t sound like you believe this faction is completely broken up, huh?
Are you asking if I believe the Hurt boys might be [arches eyebrow like The Rock] “Back In Business” at WrestleMania 37? Then you smell-la-la-la-la-la what I’m cooking, apparently.
Hey, I notice you haven’t mentioned AJ Styles yet. Is he still buried in that grave The Undertaker dug for him in WrestleMania 36’s Boneyard Match?
No, he’s not in the grave. Unfortunately, he’s very much buried.
One of the most talented performers in WWE, Styles decided he wanted to become a tag-team champion for … reasons? So he’s teaming with his bodyguard Diesel … um … Wardlow … wait … Omos, there it is, against The New Day.
Omos is a former college basketball player billed at 7-foot-3 and is going to make his official in-ring debut at WrestleMania. So, like, no pressure. The build isn’t the best, but three of the four performers here can certainly bring it. While Omos is very tall.
Speaking of performers who can bring it: The dependable Cesaro will face Seth Rollins in a singles match. The storyline here is that Rollins is still a delusional Messianic figure who believes he’s the leader of the SmackDown locker room and Cesaro, like Kong, bows to no one. So Rollins tried to injure Cesaro by stomping a steel chair around his neck before he was stopped by WWE officials. This is a potential show-stealer, and it’ll be interesting to see if Rollins ends up as another rung on the ladder Cesaro’s been steadily climbing as a singles performer.
But again: Good, clean, understandable booking: ‘You’re very bad and tried to decapitate me with a steel chair, and now I will seek my comeuppance at WrestleMania.’ Not an evil doppelgänger, weird black goo vomit or an incinerated demonic beast in sight.
OK, guess it’s time to talk about The Fiend
Please recall a few years ago when Randy Orton became a disciple of cult leader Bray Wyatt, only to turn on him and burn down “The Wyatt Family Compound.” They later met at WrestleMania 33, when Orton defeated Wyatt for the WWE championship. Remember that match, when Wyatt attempted to give Orton the heebie-jeebies by having images of insects projected onto the ring canvas? Pity he didn’t opt for something really scary, like footage of Orton’s performance in “12 Rounds 2: Reloaded.”
Fast forward a few years, and Orton is back in a feud with Wyatt, his “The Fiend” persona and Alexa Bliss, a.k.a. off-brand Harley Quinn. Here are some actual things that have happened in this feud over the last few months:
An “Inferno Match” at “TLC” in which the ring was surrounded by spirals of fire with weapons used by Orton and The Fiend spontaneously bursting into flames. Orton won the match by giving an RKO while The Fiend’s jacket was on fire. He then poured gasoline on The Fiend — who was 100% not swapped out for a clear mannequin at this point, no sir! — and lit him completely ablaze.
A “cliffhanger” in which it appeared Orton would set Bliss on fire at the end of RAW, holding a match as she stood soaked in gasoline as the show went off the air.
A match between Orton and Triple H that was interrupted when the sledgehammer held by the executive vice president of Global Talent Strategy & Development for WWE caught on fire, and then Bliss materialized to throw a fireball at Orton’s face. He would wear a protective mask that made his face look like the template for “create-a-luchador.”
Bliss becoming possessed by the spirit of The Fiend, and Orton materializing behind her with a burned up face to deliver an RKO on her.
Bliss materializing during an Orton vs. Edge match to drip red goo out of her mouth and distract Orton.
Orton dripping black goo out of his mouth during an interview about The Fiend.
Orton having a conversation with a second Randy Orton who told him a reckoning for his actions was coming, and then the first Randy Orton had the black goo come out of his mouth again.
Bliss blew out a match on a video screen that caused fire to shoot up from the ring and made Orton cough up black goo.
Bliss and Orton had a “match” at Fastlane, in which he coughed up black goo, a lighting rig almost fell on him, Bliss shot a lightning bolt out of her hand (!) at Orton and a hand reached up out of the ring mat like it was Stephen King’s “Carrie,” grabbed Orton’s leg and attached to that hand was The Fiend with a super melty mask.
Orton threatened to light The Fiend on fire again — because it apparently worked so well the first time — but was beaten up by him and Bliss as a prelude to WrestleMania.
Um, this sounds like simultaneously the best and worst thing that’s ever happened
There’s really nothing like it in wrestling right now, which is both its blessing and its curse. It’s a bonkers storyline that’s going to culminate in another “cinematic” match. One that The Fiend had with John Cena remains one of the most boldly creative things that WWE has done in recent memory, so there’s some goodwill built up here.
Nothing like the rest of this WrestleMania card, which really accentuates the inherent goofiness of the whole angle. But guess what: The same could be said for the majority of The Undertaker’s storylines, which are now revered.
That’s the beauty of WrestleMania, really. The WWE is fond of calling it “The Showcase of the Immortals,” but it’s really just “Wrestling’s Largest Buffet.” There’s the serious and the silly. There are matches with stakes and matches seemingly thrown together in a week. There are feuds you know you wanted to see to their conclusion and matchups you didn’t realize you needed to see until they were on this card.
It’s two days of action where something is going to end up being a moment you remember. Especially for those fans who are watching a WWE event live and in person for the first time since this cursed pandemic started. The WWE is “Back In Business” with WrestleMania. Here’s hoping business is good for all involved.
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